The Morning Brief – 09.30.20

By Bruce Carson


The United States Presidential Debate (Part 2)

What was Accomplished?

Were Minds Changed?

Were Ballot Questions Discerned?

Who Gained Support—Who Lost Support?

Usually going into a high stakes election debate, the candidates or their teams set goals for themselves and work to accomplish those goals. It was not clear from the 100 minutes (the debate went overtime) last evening that either candidate met the standard set for them.

When preparing for debates as we did for the Harper debates from 2004 through to 2008, the team under the direction of Mike Coates worked out a SWAT analysis on both our own and other candidates. Mock debates were staged with stand-ins for the other leaders. Tough questions were put and answers honed as similar to last evening we knew the broad topics that would be discussed.

In every debate we waited for a destabilizer to be launched from the Liberals designed to throw the team and the candidate off his game and waste time chasing down rabbit holes. When the inevitable would occur Senator Marjory LeBreton would take on the task of dealing with the media and anyone else who cared, putting the matter to bed with her patented saying “today’s newspapers wrap tomorrow’s fish.

When working together during those years we would design what we referred to as “zingers” to throw another candidate off their game but never would have countenanced the behavior that was on display last evening, which from the word go, was as close to a brawl as any debate has become.

General comments would include the fact that former Vice President Biden survived and was still standing at the end of the time. President Trump was no different last night than he is at his media availabilities. That combination did not make for an informative evening.

One concern the candidates may have is that any undecided voter watching in order to make up her or his mind, may have decided that neither candidate is worth supporting. Trump throughout played to his base as it seemed there was no thought that this could be an opportunity to expand that base. For Biden, the expectations were so low; his survival in the face of personal insults and attacks from Trump may have given him some sort of victory.

Neither man showed any leadership qualities that one would expect from those in leadership positions or vying to be president. There were no visionary statements of the future of the United States in an ever more dangerous and polarized world.

Perhaps the limited reach of the two candidates was helpful from Canada’s perspective as foreign affairs or multilateralism was not discussed. They were not designated topics nor did they emerge in the discussions among the candidates; so Canada emerged unscathed and at least in this debate, ignored.

On the specific debate subjects there was nothing new from either Trump or Biden on the Supreme Court of the United States. Trump argued that he and the Senate were entitled to move on the nomination of a new justice now. Biden argued that the American people should have a say in the coming election.

There were discussions about the threat a conservative leaning court would have on matters such as abortion, health care and this election. This led into a discussion on how Trump would change Obamacare and led to the assertion by Biden that Trump doesn’t have a plan. This was a recurring Biden theme.

One surprise was that Biden wouldn’t talk about any plans that may be afoot to change the court. Democratic Vice President candidate Kamala Harris had the same non-answer when interviewed after the debate.

The debate subject of COVID-19 was another area when Biden accused the president of having no plan. Trump’s retort was that if Biden had been in charge he wouldn’t have been able to cope and the borders would have remained open and over 2 million would have died. Discussion moved into mask wearing and the search for a vaccine. Biden accused Trump of not listening to science with Trump often at odds with his advisors. Trump said once again, a vaccine was coming very soon.

The COVID discussion moved into Trump’s accusation that Biden would shut down the country while Trump believes in opening it up. This degenerated into a discussion on campaign methods with Trump drawing unmasked crowds, not social distanced and offering that Biden couldn’t draw a crowd.

The economy segment was a debate over rebuilding the economy; Biden after the 2008 recession and Trump now after COVID-19. It was in this segment that moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if it was true that he only paid $750 in federal tax in 2016 and 2017. Trump responded that he paid millions of dollars in taxes.

Biden spoke of the jobs his economic plan would create along with his Buy America plan. They disagreed over who had created more jobs in their time in office.

On race and cities Biden spoke about equality, equity and the Constitution and that Trump has not been the savior of Black people as he claims.  Trump repeated his claim that no one has done more for Black people than he has except perhaps Abraham Lincoln.

This led to a discussion on violence as Biden said it was never appropriate. Trump was asked why he ended racial sensitivity training and he responded that it was because the training was designed to have those receiving it hate America.

Trump accused Biden of not being able to utter the phrase ‘law and order’ but it was Trump who refused to condemn White Supremacist Groups. One group he told to “stand back, stand by.” This could haunt Trump in any effort to broaden his voter base. Trump taunted Biden to name one law and order group that supports him.

Wallace asked Biden if he had ever intervened with the mayor of Portland suggesting that the National Guard be called in to deal with riots. Biden said that he didn’t, as he doesn’t hold elective office. This may later be seen as a Biden gaffe in that he didn’t take charge of a situation and try to resolve it.

The next topic dealt with their individual records. This gave Trump the opportunity to say that no president had done more for the American people in his first term in office. He stated that rearming the military and appointing over 300 federal judges were part of what he has done for Americans. Biden argued that under Trump the U.S. is weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided and more violent under Trump.

Trump used this segment to attack Biden’s son Hunter.

The moderator asked about climate change and after a number of questions about Trump’s belief in climate change, Trump admitted that “to an extent humans contribute” to climate change. Biden said as president he would have the U.S. rejoin the Paris Accord. Trump argued that Biden’s environment plan would cost $100 trillion to implement. Biden’s response was that the assertion was false and his plan would create jobs.

The final topic was election integrity where Biden urged those watching to vote. Trump raised his usual arguments about voter fraud connected with mail in ballots. He called these ballots a “disaster.”

Moderator Chris Wallace presented the statistic that in 2018, 31 million Americans voted by mail. He asked Trump if he was counting on the Supreme Court to deal with the election. Trump responded that this won’t end well.

Both candidates were asked if they would ask supporters to stand down should the counting of ballots go beyond November 3, and not declare victory. Trump said he wouldn’t do so and also said he may not accept the count while Biden said he would do so. Trump’s concern about the ballot count is why the Supreme Court position needs to be filled immediately.

After last evening it is unclear what two more Trump-Biden debates will accomplish. Both men must decide to abide by the debating rules agreed to by their campaign teams and decide to discuss respectfully their visions and policies for the United States which is suffering under COVID, suffering economically, suffering job losses and suffering from racial strife and violence. Should they commit to this, their next two debates could be informative and lead to more voter participation on November 3.

The next debate is to be held on October 7 involving Vice President Pence and Democratic nominee for Vice President Kamala Harris.

To Come

  • GDP numbers for July to be released
October 6
  • International trade numbers for August to be released
October 8
  • Speech to be delivered by Bank of Canada Governor Macklem
October 9
  • Job numbers for September to be released