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Presidential debate was a Trumpian I-am-a-colossal-jerk show from beginning to end

All the president did Tuesday night was show his worst, rudest, cruelest side in the first debate of the season.

President Donald Trump speaking during Tuesday night's debate held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
President Donald Trump speaking during Tuesday night's debate held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

I’m done trying to figure out what there is left that Donald Trump can do to drive away a significant portion of his base — who are a minority, but, until last night, an unwavering minority. I don’t hold any great expectation that they will have a rethink about their hero, because all he did last night was show his worst, rudest, cruelest side in the first debate of the season. But, for all I know, that’s the side his loyalists like best.

He talked constantly when it wasn’t his turn, interrupting the far more polite and dignified Joe Biden. Maybe that’s the kind of “strength” the loyal Trumpers admire. I hope not, but maybe.

The time was supposed to be equally shared between the candidates, but Trump constantly interrupted with absurdities and lies while Biden was speaking. 

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“Do you see what this clown’s doing?” Biden asked the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News. 

Biden mostly kept his cool. Nothing he said was particularly interesting, but he mostly maintained his dignity, dignity being a concept with which the POTUS is unfamiliar. 

The interrupting during Biden’s turn to speak did get to Biden until he expostulated, when Trump wouldn’t let him answer a question directed at Biden without carping from the side: “Will you shut up, man?”

On another occasion, he made the historical statement, “You’re the worst president America ever had.” But, in general, Biden tried to follow the rules of the debate, talk when it was his turn, and play the adult. 

“Under this president,” Biden said, “we’ve become weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent,” which might be rude if it weren’t basically true. But for the most part, Biden hardly needed to be there. It was the Trumpian I-am-a-colossal-jerk show from beginning to end.

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaking during Tuesday night's debate.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaking during Tuesday night's debate.
As far as I could tell, neither of them made any news at all with any of their answers, unless having the president of the United cross every line of common decency is news. But with Trump it’s hard to say how new or surprising that was. 

Referring to the colossal failure of the Trump administration in the matter of the COVID pandemic, Biden said to Trump, “It is what it is because you [Trump] are who you are.”

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Trump baited Biden with attacks on Biden’s son Hunter’s struggles in life, in many cases repeating allegations that have been proven false. And he forced Biden to admit that Hunter Biden has struggled in the past with drug addiction. But if he thought that made him [Trump] look good and Biden look bad, I’m pretty sure he got it backward.

“There’s nothing smart about you,” the successor to Lincoln said with mature wit to his opponent. Trump just wouldn’t stop interrupting Biden. Wallace occasionally rebuked Trump for not following the rules to which, Wallace pointed out, Trump’s campaign had agreed. Would it be a waste of time to say that Trump neither apologized nor changed his conduct?

On the issues where they differ, about the past or the future, nothing of interest was said. The main story was Trump’s boorishness. Also, but this is not news, when Wallace asked both men to pledge not to declare victory on election night until there was time to process the expected historic number of mail-in ballots, Biden said yes. Trump said something, but it wasn’t yes.

I was horrified, and even surprised, but not shocked by Trump’s demeanor. I don’t claim to understand his base or what level of clownish rudeness it would take to antagonize some of his 40 percent.

Even the token Republican on the post-debate CNN analyst roundup, former Sen. Rick Santorum, who generally sticks up for Trump, allowed that Trump “came out hot” having decided “he was going to give Joe Biden some of the grief that he [Trump] has been given.” But even Santorum admitted that “I don’t think it worked for him tonight.”

CNN analyst Gloria Borger said Trump “took the presidency and the office of the president to a new low,” adding that Trump “is so full of grievance that can’t get past himself.” Jake Tapper said, “That was a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck” and “that was horrific.” Anderson Cooper commented, “I don’t think we’ve ever seen a president of the United States so completely lacking in shame.”

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“I think Donald Trump may have ended his presidency with his performance tonight,” said David Axelrod. And, said Van Jones, Trump, when offered the chance to do so, “refused to condemn white supremacists” and instead “gave a wink and a nod to a racist, Nazi, murderous, organization that is now celebrating online.” 

For balance, I checked out the opening remarks on his show of Sean Hannity on Fox, who said “the extremely weak, the pale, the confused Joe Biden just got steamrolled by President Trump.” He had no comment on anything bothersome Trump might have done or said, but said that Biden “appeared flustered, irritated and, well, cranky. Maybe it was past his bedtime and he needed a nap.”