The Corner

Elections

The First Debate Showed Why Biden Will Win

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participates in the first 2020 presidential campaign debate with President Donald Trump in Cleveland, Ohio, September 29, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton, and that will be enough to win him the election this November.

This much has been clear since Super Tuesday this year during the Democratic primaries. In 2016, Hillary split several very important states with Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday, and those she won, she won without walking away. In 2020, Democrats reran the same experiment with Joe Biden, even keeping Bernie the also-ran around to act as a control factor. The results were strikingly different. Biden annihilated Sanders on Super Tuesday. It appears that a lot of the Vermont senator’s support in those states last time around was motivated more by antipathy towards Hillary than by affection for Sanders and his agenda. Given the opportunity to vote for someone other than Hillary, voters ditched Sanders in droves.

The same dynamic will play out in the general election this November. Voters who flocked to Trump in 2016 because he met the indispensable criteria of not-being-Hillary will abandon him when offered a non-Hillary alternative.

The first debate showed why this result is all but inevitable at this point. At several intervals, the president descended into what can only be described as merciless bullying. Biden, it should be noted, was susceptible to bullying in the first place because he appeared to be punch-drunk from the get-go, and could not seem to find his marbles at any point during the debate.

But Trump went seriously out of bounds at several points. He refused to acknowledge Beau Biden’s honorable military service, pivoting instead to Hunter Biden’s cocaine addiction. Needless to say, family struggles with substance abuse would be completely out of bounds during a political debate in a healthy, dignified society. 

But the personal attacks didn’t really land. They just drew attention to Trump’s comprehensive paucity of class and moral fibre. And they didn’t land because they weren’t directed at Hillary Clinton. Trump’s pugnacious and bullish behavior is not a new debate tactic that he’s picked up this year. His behavior during the debates with Clinton was very similar — he even insinuated that he’d throw her in jail given the chance. But Trump’s pugilism didn’t hurt his debate performances as much last cycle because it was aimed at Hillary, a woman for whom huge swathes of the electorate cannot muster a single shred of sympathy. She was so disliked and so abhorred by so many Americans, that everything Trump threw in her direction was, if not applauded, then ignored in light of Clinton’s own record of staggering moral illiteracy.

The truth is that Donald Trump as a candidate was tailor-made to beat Hillary Clinton, but his style of politics doesn’t adapt very well to less hated opponents. Put him in a room with a candidate even marginally more sympathetic than Hillary and he comes across as little more than a latter-day Biff Tanner, tormenting whichever hapless McFly is unfortunate enough to be in close proximity to him. 

The first debate solidified a conviction I have long held about this era of American politics: that Hillary Clinton will go down as its most significant and influential actor. She was such a bad primary candidate in 2016 that she opened the door for a socialist takeover of the party base. She was such a bad candidate in the general that she lost to the headliner of WrestleMania 23, who will in turn lose this fall because his entire political personality was cultivated to exploit the nation’s antipathy towards Clinton, and there’s no other electoral lock that he can pick. When all is said and done, Hillary Clinton’s epoch-defining awfulness as a candidate for public office will be seen as the hinge around which this entire decade of political history in America turns. Trump tried all the old tricks tonight that he pulled out in 2016, but not running against Clinton proved to be his Kryptonite. It’s simply harder for most people to hate Joe Biden than it was for them to hate Hillary Clinton, and so Trump’s personal depravity comes across less as Defcon-1 necessity and more as a sordid personal and national disgrace.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were the two least popular major party nominees to ever run for president. Not being Clinton was enough for Trump to win. It stands to reason that not being either of them will be enough for Biden to win as well. 

Most Popular

Trump vs. Biden: A Rundown

One week out, the contrasts are worth assessing. Foreign policy Biden so far has issued no substantive critique of Trump’s foreign policy other than banalities that Trump’s comportment and unpredictability have offended allies and tarnished America’s reputation. But who exactly, according to Biden, is ... Read More

Trump vs. Biden: A Rundown

One week out, the contrasts are worth assessing. Foreign policy Biden so far has issued no substantive critique of Trump’s foreign policy other than banalities that Trump’s comportment and unpredictability have offended allies and tarnished America’s reputation. But who exactly, according to Biden, is ... Read More
Elections

The Only Middle Finger Available

If Donald Trump wins a second term, it will be an unmistakable countercultural statement in a year when progressives have otherwise worked their will across the culture. After months and months of statues toppling and riots in American cities and a crime wave and woke virtue-signaling from professional sports ... Read More
Elections

The Only Middle Finger Available

If Donald Trump wins a second term, it will be an unmistakable countercultural statement in a year when progressives have otherwise worked their will across the culture. After months and months of statues toppling and riots in American cities and a crime wave and woke virtue-signaling from professional sports ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The Kavanaugh Court

If Justice Barrett votes as her mentor Justice Scalia did, she will be part of an ascendant conservative majority on the Supreme Court. What kinds of decisions can we expect from this majority? Short answer: Ask Brett Kavanaugh. Contrary to how journalists frame each seat change on the Court, comparing the new ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The Kavanaugh Court

If Justice Barrett votes as her mentor Justice Scalia did, she will be part of an ascendant conservative majority on the Supreme Court. What kinds of decisions can we expect from this majority? Short answer: Ask Brett Kavanaugh. Contrary to how journalists frame each seat change on the Court, comparing the new ... Read More

The Pollster Who Thinks Trump Is Ahead

The polling aggregator on the website RealClearPolitics shows the margin in polls led by Joe Biden in a blue font and the ones led by Donald Trump in red. For a while, the battleground states have tended to be uniformly blue, except for polls conducted by the Trafalgar Group. If you are a firm believer only in ... Read More

The Pollster Who Thinks Trump Is Ahead

The polling aggregator on the website RealClearPolitics shows the margin in polls led by Joe Biden in a blue font and the ones led by Donald Trump in red. For a while, the battleground states have tended to be uniformly blue, except for polls conducted by the Trafalgar Group. If you are a firm believer only in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Some Counterfactual Thinking

Election Day is one week away. Can you believe it? On the menu today: contemplating what would be different, and what would be the same, if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had retired in 2013 instead of staying on the Court until her death earlier this year; a couple of flubbed words on the campaign trail; yes, people really ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Some Counterfactual Thinking

Election Day is one week away. Can you believe it? On the menu today: contemplating what would be different, and what would be the same, if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had retired in 2013 instead of staying on the Court until her death earlier this year; a couple of flubbed words on the campaign trail; yes, people really ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Whose Seat?

Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. And I think there are two little things to say about it. The first is that we very likely have in Barrett the true successor to Antonin Scalia on the Court. Barrett clerked for Scalia and her articulation of his philosophy is probably the most faithful on the court. Justices ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Whose Seat?

Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed. And I think there are two little things to say about it. The first is that we very likely have in Barrett the true successor to Antonin Scalia on the Court. Barrett clerked for Scalia and her articulation of his philosophy is probably the most faithful on the court. Justices ... Read More