Americans saw two men last night in the closing days of their respective pursuits of the highest office in the land, and their split-screen town halls clarified and catalyzed an understanding of this race in a way that their one debate so far did not.
It was one more sign of a Trump campaign in total collapse; broke, broken, and unmoored.
Donald Trump was eviscerated by a smart and determined Savannah Guthrie, who put up with exactly zero bullshit from a subject who usually submerges interviewers under a tidal wave of the stuff, while Joe Biden connected with both his audience and interviewer George Stephanopoulos, and it became clearer than ever that the choice is between the craziest possible uncle and a steady elder statesman, between a chaos president and a centrist Democrat.
Chicken Donald got what he asked for last night after ducking the presidential debate for what he’d expected to be the more amenable circumstance of a network town hall. And America saw him as he is, as Guthrie opened up by pressing him on the key elements remaining in his base, white supremacists and QAnon maniacs, and Trump reeked of desperation not to further embarrass himself as he flailed to recapture his old media magic but instead dispelled once and for all the deeply held belief that he cannot be bested by a reporter.
While Joe Biden looked and sounded compassionate, presidential and completely sane, Trump’s body language made it look like he was about to sprint off the set at any moment. He was wound like a spring. Biden looked ready for a cocktail, loose and happy.
It was one more example of why the Trump campaign’s nine-month effort to portray Joe Biden as senile, weak, and incapable of holding the presidency was such a stupid bet. The Biden on stage tonight was more presidential in 90 minutes than Donald Trump has been in four long years, let alone in his 60 minute flop-sweat bid at counter-programming.
Guthrie’s questions about QAnon clearly set Trump's tiny mental gears grinding. Trump knows his most fervent base voters now include an unhealthy leavening of conspiracy nutcases, and he was in on the scam until tonight. He knew he couldn’t denounce them. He couldn’t take the easy, sane path with an answer that might have had a chance of winning back a suburban voter or two who isn’t Q-centric.
QAnon is an infection in the Republican body politics. The infection became a cancer and the cancer metastasized across the Republican Party.
Of course, Trump did manage to bridge to his favorite imaginary boogeyman: Antifffffaaaaaa and the “radical left.” Antifa was a minor hit this summer during the post-George Floyd unrest, and exists primarily now as fodder for Trump Twitter and for people waiting for the caravans to announce new tour dates.
Perhaps no one was more deserving of feeling the chill wind of my Everything-Trump-Touches-Dies dictum tonight than Bill Barr. In recent days, Barr has fallen from presidential favor because the vaunted unmasking report long resident in the political spankbank of morons like Devin Nunes, Dan Bongino, and Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist turned out to be a complete bust.
Instead of discovering a vast conspiracy against Trump, the unmasking report ended with a super-sized nothingburger. Trump’s allies screeched about it and now poor pitiful Donny is angry that his attorney general didn’t make up some crimes for him to bitch about and that his FBI director, Chris Wray, won’t make up a story about widespread voting fraud to explain the historic thumping that’s coming in 18 days.
Trump also confessed to paying only $750 in federal income tax in 2017, and to owing mysterious foreign nationals $400 million. His blurted “It’s not Russher!” seemed a wee bit too defensive and eager.
In a moment of cultural dumbfuckery that says it all, Mercedes Schlapp, long-time Washington conservative doyenne and wife of lobbyist and Trump fave Matt Schlapp, decided the smart course in response to Donald’s dismal disaster was to attack “Mister Rodgers,” though she couldn’t spell his name right. Yes, that Mister Rogers.
The desperation rolled off Trump in fetid waves, reminding voters in this closing stretch that he cannot learn. He cannot change. He cannot take and execute on good advice anything that could potentially help his campaign and his political future. Tonight was another reminder that Donald Trump is always, and only, Donald Trump.