Just hear me out. In the first debate, there was at least a glimmer of hope that moderator Chris Wallace would put his pride at being seen as an unbiased interviewer before any personal preference. Wallace failed at his most basic task: holding both candidates accountable for past and current positions. That’s something Joe Biden has avoided for five decades in public life.
Wallace gave him his wish. The debate was no more difficult for Biden than the softballs he gets from MSNBC. Yet the Commission on Presidential Debates is still looking to implement rule changes, likely because the consensus after the debate is that it was terrible. Dana Bash from CNN actually called it a “sh*tshow” on the air.
There was broad bipartisan agreement on that sentiment. Joe Biden sat there and denied things we can all see with our own eyes—like saying antifa is an idea, not an organization, which is just absurd. An idea isn’t burning down buildings and destroying businesses in Portland. There are hours of footage on the internet of them waving their antifa flags, engaging in violence, and destroying property. Neither Biden nor Wallace would utter the name of the group Black Lives Matter, so I guess they don’t exist either.
The case President Trump and his team could make is really quite simple. They were looking forward to a debate with a skilled interviewer, Chris Wallace, on the policies and record of each candidate. Unfortunately, Joe Biden has no interest in talking about his policy positions on some issues, like packing the Supreme Court. He also misrepresents his policies on other issues, like the Green New Deal. Changing the debate rules will not change any of this.
Wallace put out his debate topics before the event, and President Trump came ready to talk about the details. It was disappointing that Wallace did not even seem familiar with the candidates’ stated policies or history on the subjects he was questioning them on.
Here are a few examples:
- Packing the Supreme Court and ending the filibuster. The question was asked, but candidate Biden received no pushback for telling people to vote now and find out what his policy is later. Biden evaded an issue where an overwhelming number of Americans object to adding seats to the Supreme Court. Allowing Biden not to answer is inexcusable.
- Green New Deal. The Biden website explicitly states that the candidate supports the Green New Deal. All of his policies are, in fact, part of a Unity Platform developed with Senator Bernie Sanders that has been published and made public. If the campaign changes it, there is an electronic record of the website as of the date of the debate.
- Supreme Court nomination. Wallace let Biden get away with implying President Trump was doing something unique in nominating Judge Amy Coney Barrett in an election year. This assertion is contrary to history. All 29 presidents faced with a vacancy in an election year have nominated a replacement. When the Senate and the president were of the same party, 17 of the 19 nominees have been confirmed. When they were from opposite parties, two of ten were confirmed. Biden was not challenged with the clear historical record.
- Denouncing white supremacy. President Trump was asked the exact same question by Wallace in the 2016 primary debates. He answered clearly and precisely. He also has a clear record of full-throated denouncements going back to at least 2000 when discussing what he saw as the problems with the Reform party. This question is repetitive, always covered deceptively by the media, and moot. The Trump administration opposes all forms of racism, identitarianism, and violence, whether it originates from the political right or the left. These are fringe elements of our political spectrum. Why not challenge the Biden campaign to denounce antifa and Black Lives Matter specifically for their racist views based on critical race theory and months-long acts of violence?
Joe, you are a liar. Here’s proof. pic.twitter.com/79SrnptsTQ
— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) September 30, 2020
These issues and others left the president trying to hold his opponent accountable to his stated positions and record. Doing so diminished President Trump’s message to the American people, particularly on the economy, where even The New York Times had to admit Joe Biden was lying about his economic record.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 30, 2020
It was also The New York Times and other major media outlets that pointed out the potential conflicts of interests in candidate Biden’s son Hunter’s financial deals well before the election. Nothing about Hunter’s position with Burisma, profiting from investments made by entities linked to the Chinese government, or the payment from a Russian billionaire has been debunked, as Biden asserted. The Times has also published selective details of President Trump’s tax records illegally leaked to them. Still, after a review, the paper alleged absolutely nothing illegal.
Candidate Biden ridiculously said President Trump’s alleged federal tax liability was due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The final returns reported on were from 2017, and the Act was not passed until December of that year. The first year the law went into effect was for income earned in 2018. The tax payments Joe Biden is bellyaching about were made under the Obama/Biden tax code.
Yet, the Democrats want to make an issue of President Trump’s reported debt while having no information on his net worth. Some ridiculously assert this is a national security issue. President Trump donates his full salary to the U.S. Treasury, agreed to forego COVID relief payments that would have helped his employees weather the pandemic, and has not engaged in any new deals with foreign nations since his nomination in 2016. If candidate Biden wants to frame President Trump’s debt as a problem, Biden’s potential conflicts of interest are fair game. Letting Biden lie and say the payments to his son never happened is absurd.
President Trump and his team should use every advantage they have to correct the record and combat Joe Biden’s lies. Whether this is through daily press briefings, official speeches, or other events the media have to cover, they should play videos, cite, and read mainstream reporting and quote the Biden campaign to combat Joe Biden’s statements. There are nearly 50 years to comb through to hold Biden accountable for his previous and current comments as well as his record.
Then go on the road. President Trump should go back to making his case directly to voters in swing states. Play Joe Biden saying he will end fossil fuel-fired power plants in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Drive home the point that Joe Biden’s policies mirror California’s. That state is on fire, can’t keep the lights on, and there are almost no middle-class residents. These policies are toxic to working-class and middle-class families. All you need to do is look at the Golden State to understand it.
Finally, they should never miss an opportunity to drive home the point that Joe Biden is evasive because he is balancing the interests of two very different groups. On radical policies like the Green New Deal and court-packing, he will alienate the extreme left if he denounces them. If Biden agrees to them, he loses moderates and independents. Joe Biden refuses to be specific because he is deceiving one of these groups. Are the moderates and independents willing to take that bet? The Trump campaign needs to ask them directly.
The campaign doesn’t need debates to do this, and the president doesn’t need to make his own case while attempting to hold Biden accountable. That is a moderator’s job. And if an interviewer like Chris Wallace, who prides himself on being able to challenge leaders across the political spectrum, won’t do it, there is no reason to believe others will. Go directly to voters with a disciplined and visual message, President Trump, and leave Joe Biden in the basement.