I wanted to get my hot-take on the debate off my chest while the topic is still hot. I get it that many of my friends are turned off by Trump’s style and bluster, and I see that many think Trump lost the debate. I want to get this out before all the talking heads start breaking things down, and you suspect that I am parroting someone else. This is my immediate opinion of the debate.
From my perspective, those who want to declare a “winner” or a “loser” of the debate miss the point. Trump doesn’t live by the conventions of the modern-day politician. Trump isn’t trying to be the second coming of the Bushes or even the second coming of Ronald Reagan. In 2016, I was a Ted Cruz guy. If Cruz had conducted himself like Trump in a debate, I would agree with you all that the debate was lost. But Trump isn’t trying to live up to our expectations for his conduct or for his debating skills. We want one of the debaters to be declared a “winner,” but I don’t think that is the goal for Trump at all.
I don’t think Trump is interested in winning the debate.
He is interested in owning the debate. And he did precisely that, from wire-to-wire. Chris Wallace might have been the moderator, but Trump controlled the debate. And both Chris Wallace and Joe Biden were forced to play his game. Like it or not, Biden was merely the backdrop for an hour and a half of the Donald Trump Show. Chris Wallace was a prop, much like the media becomes a prop for Trump day after day after day. Why do you think Trump is so combative with the media? He protests – too much, by the way, to be serious – but he loves it.
He loves mixing it up with them because it keeps our attention on him and allows him to get his message out.
That, I think, is the point, and Trump did it again masterfully.
If there was a loser in last night’s debate, it was Chris Wallace. Wallace clearly lost his head. But all of his peppering Trump, playing tag-team with Biden, only served Trump’s purpose. It kept the focus on Trump and allowed Trump to dominate the conversation. At times, Wallace forgot that his job was to ensure equal time for the candidates. In his determination to force Trump’s hand, he gift-wrapped the time advantage for Trump.
At one point in tonight’s debate, Trump talked about his big rallies, and Biden leaned into the mic with a snide remark about them lasting for an hour and a half. It made me snicker. It is yet another example of how Biden, like much of the political establishment, doesn’t get it. Conventional wisdom says, “keep it short, keep it simple.” But at Trump rallies, tens of thousands of people hang on to every word of his ninety-minute harangues. They eat it up and beg for more. I haven’t seen a politician who could captivate an audience for even half an hour. Trump triples that, and people just keep coming back for more.
I have to admit that I haven’t been so entertained by a debate in my lifetime as I am by the Trump debates. When Hillary was the backdrop, it was every bit as entertaining.
In the days of Bush and Dole and Bush and McCain and Romney, I dutifully endured the debates, wishing the moderator would have mercy on us all and cut it off early. “I think we’ve covered the same three points a dozen different ways now, so we can let you all get back to something that interests you.” But watching a Trump debate, I’m sorry to see it end. It makes me laugh out loud. And that is the genius of the thing.
I’ll be candid: I am surprised that after five years of Trump (counting the year of his first campaign), we still want to measure him by political convention. Trump defies convention. That is the whole point and the reason he generates enthusiasm like few men in history.
Last week, my son and I spent some time with a pastor friend in Carson City, Nevada. We had a great time with a young and growing church there on the edge of Lake Tahoe.
One afternoon, my son and I and the pastor’s son drove over to Virginia City. As we drove into town, we were shocked to see motorcycles lining both sides of the road – I would estimate a thousand motorcycles. People were waving Trump flags and Trump signs, and vehicles were slowly driving up and down the street with Trump flags streaming out the windows. Since Trump was holding a rally in Pennsylvania at that same time, I knew he wasn’t planning a visit to Virginia City. Otherwise, I would have been looking for him. The enthusiasm was incredible, and Trump wasn’t anywhere near.
These were not my people, for sure. It was a rough and rowdy crowd. And they love Trump. I’ve seen similar displays in some pretty odd places around the country this year.
Whether Trump wins or not, I think we all have to admit that we aren’t looking at a politician. Trump is more pugilist than politician. And unlike any of his Republican predecessors, the man knows how to land a punch. Love him or hate him, admire him or despise him, agree or disagree, Trump plays for keeps. For Trump, the debate is a stage, and he is the star. And when the analysts break this one down, it will be all about Trump. On those terms, even if he loses, he wins. Because the discussion is all about him.