It might seem obvious, but in all the racket that follows a debate, the most important focus is how it affects the race, if at all.
It was a solid debate, despite more questions geared toward former Vice President Joe Biden and against President Donald Trump, and with moderator Kristen Welker interrupting the president 24 times to Biden’s two, by Fox’s count. On the most important count, however, Trump won the debate hands down. Here’s three reasons why.
As Welker attempted to move from energy to the next topic in the last half hour of the debate, Trump asked a pointed question:
Trump: “Would he close down the oil industry? Would you close down the oil industry?”
Biden: “I would transition from the oil industry, yes.”
Trump: “Oh, that’s a big statement.”
Biden: “That is a big statement, because I would stop–”
Welker: “Why would you do that?”
Biden: “Because the oil industry pollutes significantly.”
Trump: “Oh, I see. That’s a big statement.”
Joe Biden: "I would transition from the oil industry, yes."
Pres. Trump: "Oh. That's a big statement."
— ABC News (@ABC) October 23, 2020
Having read this exchange and seen it, it’s worth a two-panel look. Watch Trump’s face as Biden attacks oil on the national stage.
LOL Trumps face as he listens to Biden bury himself with the oil industry pic.twitter.com/c986R55ksz
— Quoth the Raven (@QTRResearch) October 23, 2020
“That may be the biggest statement,” Trump said, savoring the moment as first part of the exchange came to a close. “In terms of business, that’s the biggest statement, because basically what he’s saying is he is going to destroy the oil industry… Will you remember that, Pennsylvania?”
And he was right. Pennsylvania is a very important state to a Trump Electoral College win, and despite signs it has been trending more red, it is still very much a toss-up that could help sink a second term. Why, when so much of the country seems to be trending blue, is Pennsylvania going the other direction? In a word, energy.
In 2008 and 2012, Philadelphia dominated the vote, coming out in support of the first black president. In 2016, rural voters eager to take part in the booming American energy economy helped propel Trump to the White House. That year, Obama’s final-day Philadelphia appeal fell short, though we saw him try again just this week because he knows it is crucial.
Biden, with prodding from Trump, just wrote the Republican campaign ad. He was even kind enough to write the introduction, challenging the president to “show the tape” where Biden says fracking should be banned.
Biden took a less radical tack in the primary, pushing back against the Green New Deal’s anti-energy policies, but in a rush to unite the Democratic Party after winning, tacked hard to the left in the general. It was a gamble designed to unite both the liberal and radical wings of the Democratic Party behind him, and based on the hypothesis that simply a united Blue Team is strong enough to win the country.
In the past few weeks, he’s once again changed course, insisting he would not ban fracking. On Thursday night, he sunk that final move, and a preview of what is to come was available within hours.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 23, 2020
Polls in Pennsylvania are close, and the president is at risk of losing the Keystone State, so expect his campaign to run Biden’s words over and over again. In the final stretch, it could make all the difference.
Far outside of Pennsylvania, where Democrats are hoping for wins in states like Texas and Oklahoma, expect to hear the top of the ticket’s attacks on the industry. It was the evening’s biggest win for the president.
Biden knew he shouldn’t have brought it up — he said as much out loud — but did it anyway.
“Well, I shouldn’t…” the vice president began, fading off. “Well, I will.” You could almost hear the “No! No! No!” coming from his campaign war room, but there he went, claiming his family’s now-public, corrupt dealings with foreign corporations seeking access to power are just Russian disinformation. “Former New York City Mayor Rudy [Giuliani],” he charged, “he is being used as a Russian pawn. He, he is being fed information that is not true.”
This was a silly media and campaign line in the first place, but since the Democrats first staked this ground, the director of national intelligence has publicly said there is no evidence to support it. Since then, the Department of Justice and Department of State have agreed — as has the FBI, which is in possession of the laptop in question and is reportedly using its evidence in an investigation into suspected money laundering.
For a week, the titans of the American left have worked to quash this story, sending surrogates out to argue with the evidence while Big Tech actively suppresses the information and Biden hides from reporters more interested in asking him the flavor of his milkshake. It was going to be hard to hide until Election Day, but any hope of that is now dashed. Even the allied news networks that have diligently worked to ignore the story have now unintentionally aired it.
There’s no part of this story that plays into the vice president’s campaign message, and no aspect of it will do well with voters.
It’s a buzzword, and an annoying one, but it’s true: President Donald Trump’s usual tone plays terribly with a large swathe of the college-educated, suburban women who made up an important part of the old GOP. On the campaign trail in Michigan and Wisconsin just a week ago, we heard it over and over again: These voters don’t like his combative Queens style.
In case you missed this surprisingly funny moment from Trump, enjoy pic.twitter.com/NPh94PkLF1
— Hayes Brown (@HayesBrown) October 23, 2020
The first debate, just four days before the president was rushed to the hospital with Covid-19, did not help his case with these voters. Even MAGA-hat-wearing die-hard supporters felt let down. Thursday night, Trump turned that around, giving both what they’d been hoping for: A tempered defense of his administration’s accomplishments, combined with confidently pushing his opponent to answer for corruption allegations and the radical aspects of his party.
It was a strong debate performance, sure to calm nervous Republicans and likely to soothe those who say they’re wavering so much they’d wondered if they would vote at all.
These three points were clear victories for the president, likely to cut through the noise and directly reach Americans in the last two weeks of the election.
Thursday night was the last time Americans would ever watch Donald Trump live in a presidential debate. “Let’s finish this,” he reportedly told aides after leaving the stage.