Charles Hurt — The Mistake on the Lake: Unpresidential Debate, Winner-less Cage Match

CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the first presidential debate at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University on September 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. This is the first of three planned debates between the two candidates …
Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

And the winner is … the Commission on Unpresidential Debates!

Anybody out there who is sick and tired of “politics as usual” sure got an earful Tuesday night between President Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden in Cleveland.

Forget boxing — this was a no-holds-barred MMA cage match. Talk about a Mistake on the Lake.

t was such a nasty, bloody affair that it was hard to tell whose blood was all over the place. Hard to say who won exactly.

Except, of course, for the Commission on Unpresidential Debates.

Moderator Chris Wallace really should have demanded that he get one of those microphones that drop down from the ceiling. He has a great voice for roaring, “let’s get reeeeaaaaddddddyyy tooooo RUUUUUUUMBLE!”

Since there was no actual winner, let’s talk about the losers.

Mr. Biden has been practicing the craft of politics for a half-century now. He has never been very good at it, but he’s had lots of practice.

All he had to do was show up, “act presidential” and avoid any really bad senior moments.

But he can’t help himself.

Mr. Biden gets around a guy like Mr. Trump, and he cannot help but strap on his tough guy persona to compete with him.

It’s like how he just HAD to buy the exact same muscle car that Jill Biden’s first husband drove — just to prove he was a real man.

“What is this clown doing?” Mr. Biden scoffed.

“Will you shut up?”

“Keep yapping.”

Trying to out-Trump Donald Trump never works. Just ask Sen. Marco Rubio and his tiny little hands.

To Mr. Biden’s credit, he was at least TRYING to make a case — an utterly unintelligible one, but still — to the American people.

Half the time Mr. Biden was complaining that Mr. Trump shut down the economy and the other half he was promising to shut it down again if he gets elected.

But at least he was trying to speak to voters watching the debate on television. That is why he kept finding the red light of the rolling camera out in the darkened audience and talking into it.

Just one of those things you pick up after being in Washington for 47 years.
And this is precisely where Mr. Trump failed Tuesday night.

Mr. Trump has all the winning issues. Even his handling of the Chinese Plague is a winner for him, if he can just find his voice on it.

But instead of making his case strategically to the millions of people watching on television, Mr. Trump tried to win the room. The room was nearly empty. Half the crowd was stacked against him. And they were wearing masks. Oh, and ordered not to clap or boo.

Yet he flails away talking about Russia and Hunter Biden and rigged elections like he’s whipping up a crowd at a monster rally with Air Force One behind him.

Don’t get me wrong. Those are great stories to tell on the campaign trail. But those are not the stories that win over undecided voters watching a debate on TV — if there is any such thing in America any more.

It’s like Mr. Trump boasting about putting 300 federal judges on the bench and filling three Supreme Court seats. Monumental achievements. And that’s great for reminding your supporters how effective you have been. But it will never win over a single voter who doesn’t already support you.

Just like in 2016, Mr. Trump can win this election on the issues and the issues alone.

To do that, he has to make the case on his handling of the economy, his resolute belief in law and order and, yes, even his handling of the Chinese Plague.

But he has to make the case to the people who don’t already support him.

• Charles Hurt is opinion editor of The Washington Times. He can be reached at or @charleshurt on Twitter.


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