Trump was right when he said that he’s “not a typical politician” in the final presidential debate last night. He has a talent for setting a low bar, so, compared to the last migraine-inducing debate, its easy to applaud his relatively subdued behavior in this one. But it’s worth noting and marveling at how before 2016, his lies, baseless attacks, constant blaming of others and endless braggadocio in any other candidate would have caused an uproar. We’ve now become so numbed to this behavior that we are impressed when he shows the least bit of restraint.
This presents a serious problem for analysts and journalists. We can twist ourselves in a bunch trying to find the words that properly describe just how outrageous, horrifying and baffling he is all at once, but they still don’t come close. Debates used to be a tightrope walk, where candidates mostly repeated prepared talking points and perhaps made a headline or two with either a new policy statement or a gaffe.
To put this into perspective, let’s just remember a few historic debate gaffes. In 1976, Gerald Ford said, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” In 1992, George H.W. Bush looked at his watch while an audience member asked him how the recession had affected him personally. Al Gore famously sighed a lot at George W. Bush’s statements during the 2000 debates. This all sounds like child’s play post-Trump.
To be sure, he did less interrupting last night. The reported muted microphones, however, didn’t make much of an appearance or impact. More likely, Trump’s advisors pleaded with him to let Biden talk this time, convincing him that this way, Biden could make his own mistakes. Since Trump thinks he’s the best, most popular guy around, they probably weren’t able to convince that his barking and bullying first debate performance left all but his most ardent supporters even more convinced that he’s a jerk. The polls confirmed this, with Biden’s recent double-digit lead of over 10 points.
Unfortunately for Trump, there were a few moments where Biden seemed to struggle with his lifelong stutter, but otherwise he didn’t make any significant gaffes. Biden made a smart move earlier in the day, by getting ahead of the question of “packing…