Read what Democratic insiders had to say about Biden’s performance.
The first presidential debate on Tuesday night was “a perfect 96-minute encapsulation of where we are as a country. Just screaming and no one’s happy they are there and everyone is exhausted.”
That’s what one swing-state Republican operative told Intelligencer. In conversations with a half-dozen veteran GOP operatives after the first debate of 2020, there was a broad consensus the spectacle on national television won’t move a single undecided voter toward any decision save having another drink.
“We showed up for a bout between two aging heavyweights and were treated to the 90-minute mud-wrestling match nobody asked for,” said a veteran national Republican. “Just putrid.”
One Republican who worked on the 2016 primary campaign of another candidate told Intelligencer, “If you were for Biden, you’re still for Biden. If you were for Trump, you’re still for Trump. If you came into this not knowing who to support, I don’t know what is going to convince you.”
The Republican, a Trump skeptic, added, “There’s no question that Biden conducted himself better and in a way that would make me comfortable casting a vote for him, but what a complete and utter mess.”
Another veteran of multiple Republican primary campaigns simply thought “Trump came in too hot.” The operative thought that Trump scored points early but then squandered that with attacking Biden’s son Hunter and not disavowing white-supremacist groups when specifically asked to do so.
The result was preserving the status quo in the campaign. “I think people are where they are on Trump and on Biden. I don’t know what is going to change the race.” The Republican added that the one thing that could have changed the race was if Biden had “a senior moment” after the Trump campaign has spent months pushing the message that the former vice-president is too old and senile for the presidency. That didn’t happen.
Further, there was a sense that viewers didn’t stick around to watch the entire debate, which featured the former vice-president telling the incumbent president to “shut up” within the first 15 minutes. There was a clear consensus that the ratings collapsed as the debate moved forward in a cacophony of interruptions and insults.
Some operatives did think that the nationally televised food fight could reinforce Trump’s standing with his base. One conservative operative argued, “There are no undecided voters. But I don’t think Biden did much to motivate new voters. Trump may have.” In that politico’s opinion, “I just don’t think Biden has performed well. He came off as weak and let Trump dominate him.”
The swing-state Republican thought in particular that Biden calling Trump “a racist” might come back to bite him. “I’ve been hearing and feeling from people in this swing state, Trump supporters and Trump leaners, that the worst thing Hillary Clinton did was call Trump folks a basket of deplorables. Now it’s so far from that, that Trump is a racist and people who support him a racist they aren’t even trying to sugarcoat it.”
GOP operatives also raised the question whether there would even be future debates after Tuesday night’s spectacle. Although the Biden campaign insisted that they still would participate in the two remaining scheduled debates, the veteran Republican questioned why. “If you’re on Biden’s team, you met the ante. You performed fine, showed up, didn’t have an episode of dementia — why go back in there with the Tiger King?”
There was one silver lining though. A Republican close to the Trump campaign told Intelligencer, “We finally found something that the entire country can agree on: This debate was a complete fucking shitshow all the way around.”
The next potential moment of national unity will happen on October 15.