How ‘The Debate’ Turned Reality on Its Head

Comparing my “before and after” insights about “the debate heard round the world” was a humbling experience. Here’s my column from RealClearPolitics, one day early.


Color me shocked.

I knew the June 27 debate between President Biden and Donald Trump would be a historic event, but virtually every other prediction I had made about the event was dead wrong.

I was not the only one. For the last few weeks, Democrats in particular seemed to be willing to imagine a Biden who was sharp, glib, and might even do cartwheels on the stage. Trump supporters worried about the debate format, and especially about whether frequent Trump critics Jake Tapper and Dana Bash would join Team Biden while serving as supposedly fair moderators.

In the world prior to the debate, it was legitimate to surmise any kind of outcome. CNN host Erin Burnett said, “We will see what we will see,” after a contentious interview with GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik. Stefanik had insisted that Biden would be crushed by Trump, an opinion that obviously made the interviewer nervous, but Burnett was right. We did see, and what we saw was not what we expected.

This brings to mind a quote from Ronald Reagan: “Don’t be afraid to see what you see.” As with all great insights, this one is both simple and profound.

The point is that in order to make rational decisions, you have to get out from behind your expectations and biases and actually look at reality without any filter. Of course, doing so means you almost certainly will have to admit you were wrong on occasion, something that columnists, as much as anyone, don’t like to do. But in the spirit of Ronald Reagan, I’ll try to confess just how far reality veered away from my imagination, so here goes:

1) Jake Tapper and Dana Bash may well have been the best debate moderators in the last quarter century, if not in the history of presidential debates altogether. They asked tough questions of both candidates, but more importantly, they did not interject themselves into the debate as biased, erroneous fact checkers the way that Chris Wallace did in 2020 for Fox News or Candy Crowley did in 2012 for CNN. They tried to remind the candidates what the questions were when they tried to evade them, but they didn’t scold either Trump or Biden for their debate strategies. I’m not going to like Jake or Dana any better going forward, but I was totally wrong about their ability to keep their own anti-Trump views in check and maintain a low profile on the verge of being invisible. Let’s hope future moderators follow their example.

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2) Of course, I didn’t expect Joe Biden to be brilliant, but I had no idea just how bad he would be. From the moment he shuffled to the podium to his first response, when he appeared to be dazed and confused while speaking with a raspy voice that was probably the consequence of one solid week of debate prep, it was clear that Biden would lose the debate if not the presidency. He couldn’t keep track of numbers or names, and his dead-eye stare was downright scary. It was enough to make you think that Special Counsel Robert Hur was right to describe the president as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” except maybe Biden wasn’t that sympathetic anymore. I guess the polls will tell the tale.

3) I had predicted that Trump would take the high road, and he did – sometimes – but he also went over the cliff on occasion as he crashed his ego down on the defenseless Biden, whom he said had “without question … the worst presidency in the history of our country.” More importantly, the former president unnecessarily practiced his penchant for exaggeration when it was not necessary to do so. Perhaps the most obvious example was when he inexplicably claimed about abortion that “everybody wanted to get it back to the states … without exception, Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives.” Umm, no. If everyone had wanted Roe v. Wade overturned, it could have been done so with a constitutional amendment decades ago. I’m a big fan of Trump, but he made me squirm more often than I wished when he played fast and loose with the facts.

4) I certainly never expected Biden to bring up the long-since discredited “very fine people” hoax about the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Although Biden has claimed repeatedly that he ran for president in 2020 because he was outraged that Trump had said “there are very fine people on both sides” after a rally to preserve Confederate statues, it had been clear since the day of the original press conference that Trump was not talking about neo-Nazis because he said so at the time. It was considered laughable that the left-wing fact-check website waited seven years until last week to change the rating of the Biden claim to false, but better late than never. No one bothered to inform Biden that this old chestnut was past its use-by date, apparently because his week of debate prep at Camp David focused more on shoring up his faculties than his grasp of the facts. Trump handily dismissed the intended insult at the debate, but it would have been much more effective if he had cited Snopes by name instead of just saying the hoax had been debunked – again.

5) Finally, a confession. Even as I was sure that Biden was losing the debate, I was already planning to write a column complaining about how the mainstream media’s talking heads were trying to make excuses for Biden and trying to convince viewers and readers that Trump had lost after all. But that plan went up in smoke within seconds of the debate ending, when John King told the CNN audience:

Right now, as we speak, there is a deep, wide, and a very aggressive panic in the Democratic Party. It started minutes into the debate, and it continues right now. It involves party strategists, it involves elected officials, it involves fundraisers, and they are having conversations about the president’s performance, which they think was dismal, which they think will hurt other people down the party on the ticket. And they’re having conversations about what they should do about it.

And it wasn’t just King. The CNN panel of six liberals and two moderate conservatives were almost universal in their belief that Biden had self-destructed his candidacy. Democratic operative Van Jones called the debate “painful.” Over on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, Joy Reid, Chris Hayes, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Nicole Wallace turned their post-debate panel into a virtual support group for families of dementia patients. And for the first time in history, the Fox News conservatives had nothing bad to say about the moderators or the mainstream media. When things are going your way, shut up and play it cool.

Of course, a lot can happen between now and Election Day, but for now Donald Trump has the upper hand. That reality is the Democrats’ worst nightmare. 

About Heartland Diary USA

Heartland Diary is solely operated by Frank Miele, the retired editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. If you enjoy reading these daily essays, I hope you will SUBSCRIBE to by leaving your email address on the home page. Also please consider purchasing one of my books. They are available through the following Amazon links. My new book is “What Matters Most: God, Country, Family and Friends” and is a collection of personal essays that transcend politics. My earlier books include “How We Got Here: The Left’s Assault on the Constitution,”  “The Media Matrix: What if everything you know is fake?” and the “Why We Needed Trump” trilogy. Part 1 is subtitled “Bush’s Global Failure: Half Right.” Part 2 is “Obama’s Fundamental Transformation: Far Left.” Part 3 is “Trump’s American Vision: Just Right.” As an Amazon Associate, I may earn referral fees for qualifying purchases through links on my website. 

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