The first debate between the U.S. President Donald J. Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was devoured with eager anticipation all over the world. But top Kremlin propagandists and state media experts came away disappointed, reluctantly acknowledging that Biden managed to wipe the floor with his loudmouth opponent.
Russian state media TV show 60 Minutes played a compilation of what they seemingly considered to be Trump’s greatest hits of the night, consisting of the incumbent’s tasteless insults of his opponent. The hosts and some of the experts heartily laughed along in an attempt to support Trump’s cringeworthy performance, resembling a squad of miscreants gathered at Dr. Evil’s lair. Their exaggerated cackling came off as forced and unnatural, falling short of the desired effect.
In spite of their best efforts, Moscow’s mouthpieces had to concede that the debate was nowhere near the finest hour for their preferred candidate. The host of Russia’s 60 Minutes Evgeny Popov conceded, “All the while we’ve been thinking that Biden is feeble, but it turns out he isn’t. He was able to handle the debate well and acted in an absolutely normal way.”
After months of promoting the conspiracy that the former vice president suffers from dementia, the Kremlin’s bullhorns half-heartedly repeated Trump’s wild claim that Biden’s superior performance was drug-induced. In a gimmicky smear, 60 Minutes claimed to have discovered Biden’s secret supply of intravenous drugs, seizing on a moment when the former VP was simply adjusting his shirt. “They found a catheter, it’s absolutely true!” Popov exclaimed, but the far-fetched allegation fell flat even among his show’s panelists.
Dmitry Abzalov, Director of the Center for Strategic Communications, noted, “Importantly, this was Trump’s chance to show that Biden is weak. Trump needed the debate more than Biden, he wanted to show that he [Biden] couldn’t handle the 90-minute format without a break requested by Biden’s representatives. Trump wanted to obliterate Biden, but so far failed to do so.”
Alexei Naumov from the Russian International Affairs Council concurred: “Trump was supposed to destroy Biden. Biden simply had to withstand his force without breaking and managed to do so. That’s why Biden won the debate. There was no need to continually portray Biden as a demented oldster.” Naumov disagreed with Biden’s description of Trump as “Putin’s puppy,” suggesting that the better term would have been “Putin’s piglet.”
To cheer up Russian viewers, Popov pointed out that not all is lost for Trump’s fans in Russia and beyond: “In 2016, Hillary also allegedly outperformed Trump… but still didn’t end up in the Oval Office.” In the run-up to the debate, Russian state media attempted to undercut its importance. Hosting his weekly show Vesti Nedeli, top Kremlin propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov claimed that Trump no longer needs to win the majority of votes in order to get re-elected, because he is rigging the Supreme Court to decide the outcome of the presidential election in his favor.
Kiselyov smugly theorized, “Trump is in a hurry, because in case of a disputed outcome, the question of who will become president will be decided by the Supreme Court. The new appointment will provide Trump with a clear majority in the Supreme Court. This is a huge scandal. But the funniest thing is that no one expects the justices of the Supreme Court to act in a just manner. A priori, it is clear to everyone that the judges will vote in accordance with their party affiliation.”
This perspective fully encompassed the Kremlin’s goal of presenting the U.S. elections as a meaningless, undemocratic process. Moscow’s top propagandist surmised, “This situation devalues the very vote of hundreds of millions of Americans, because the outcome will be decided not by them, but by the nine justices, among whom the Republicans have the advantage. That is, Trump does not necessarily need a majority to win; he only needs to create a conflict, a controversial situation, which will be resolved by the Supreme Court. The structure that has emerged can hardly be called democratic even now. Yes, it seems to be correct from the point of view of procedures and formalities, but nevertheless, the opinion of the people means absolutely nothing.”
Pro-Kremlin propagandists reveled in Trump’s attempts to portray the U.S. elections as fraudulent and mail voting as inevitably rigged. Reporting for Vesti Nedeli, Russian correspondent Denis Davydov eagerly repeated President Trump’s baseless claims that the ballots sent by mail are disappearing. Davydov added, “The FBI and Pennsylvania State Police are investigating fraud with mail-in ballots and guess for whom most of them were? For Donald Trump.”
By continually chipping away at the faith in American elections—from the mail-in ballots to his rushed Supreme Court nomination—Trump has handed none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin a decisive victory in his decades-long fight to accomplish the same goal.
Through his failure to condemn the white supremacists or the growing violence, Trump also deepened the darkness of unrest and turmoil descending upon the United States. The growing threat of civil war in the United States is a highly coveted prize for the Kremlin and Putin’s propagandists are already rubbing their hands together with joyous anticipation. Appearing on the state TV show The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev, panelist Karen Shakhnazarov asserted that Americans no longer believe in the fairness of their own elections and civil war is inevitable. He concluded, “America as we knew it is over. Most importantly, the American dream is dead.”