We finally got to hear our presidential candidates Thursday night. The question still is, however, what exactly did we learn?
If you watched CNN, the closest to a middle-ground cable station we have in this country, you learned that the viewers — not pundits, but viewer/voters — polled after the debate thought Joe Biden did a better job: 53% said Biden won the matchup, while 39% said President Trump did.
That's an improvement for Trump. A CNN instant poll after the first presidential debate found that only 28% thought the interrupter-in-chief won.
If you watched MSNBC, you received no post-debate poll numbers but you heard a lot about Trump's myriad lies and misleading statements — many of which he has said over and over and over, making false claims on topics ranging from the coronavirus to foreign policy to immigration to Joe Biden's "houses all over the place" (Biden has two, a residence in Wilmington, Delaware, and a vacation home at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware), and Biden and son receiving millions from foreign governments (not true, but there Trump goes projecting again.
Biden easily knocked Trump totally off that tack asking about Trump's previously undisclosed Chinese bank account and the taxes Trump paid in China — far more than the income taxes he's paid in the U.S.
As if that were not enough, Biden sealed it with a look straight into our homes and saying: "He doesn't want to talk about the substantive issues. It's not about his family and my family. It's about your family, and your family's hurting badly. ... You're sitting at the kitchen table this morning deciding, well, we can't get new tires, they're bald, because we have to wait another month. Or, so are we going to be able to pay the mortgage? Who's going to tell her, she can't go back to community college? They're the decisions you're making in the middle class families ... . We should be talking about your families, but that's the last thing he wants to talk about."
Ezra Klein, the editor at large of Vox, told The New York Times: "It is amazing how easy it is to distract Trump from the one attack he clearly prepared for tonight by needling him on his tax returns and finances. It'd be funny except for that same total absence of focus defines his presidency."
But if you stayed up for MSNBC's Brian Williams show, you were reminded about where we are by Chattanooga-born and Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential biographer Jon Meacham, who was in the Nashville debate hall:
"One man was running for president of the United States and the other man was auditioning for a show on Fox. ... [T]he innate reaction I had to watching the president who dwells in the wilderness of mirrors, to borrow a phrase from the Cold War, where there are these code words. It's a language that I'm sure makes sense to a certain segment of his base, but doesn't make a lot of sense to anyone who has a nodding acquaintance with the realities of America during this pandemic."
Later Meacham added: "There is a lizard brain in this country. Donald Trump is a product of the white man's anguish — the nervous white guy's lizard brain. And there could be a twitch there. ... I think Trump did himself good with his base tonight. The question for America is how big that base is."
And speaking of Fox News, if that's where you tuned in, Trump was a hero and Biden was the devil. Enough said. But the Fox News site was quick to move to other subjects Friday — as was Trump himself.
Then there was the evangelical reaction. David Brody, the chief political analyst for the Christian Broadcasting Network, tweeted that the president "has effectively hammered home a very simple theme tonight and that is this: 'what have you done Joe during all your time in DC?' ... That message will have traction."
Overall, there was talk of Trump being the beneficiary of low expectations. There were a lot of comments along the line that while he tantrumed less, he lied more.
Charlie Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said any good Trump did to his campaign was probably limited by double-digit poll leader Biden's even performance: "Biden did not do a face plant," Cook said. "That is all he needed to do."
The thing is, Biden did more than that.
Though the conservatives beat their drums that Trump scored populist points about Biden being a lifetime politician who couldn't "get it done" in eight years with Barack Obama (then why did Trump spend so much time undoing all the things they had done?), Biden had one swell comeback.
"Two hundred twenty thousand Americans dead. If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this. Anyone who's responsible for not taking control — in fact, for saying, I take no responsibility, initially — anyone who is responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America."
It was a great debate. We learned plenty.