“It’s not who votes that count, but who counts the votes” Josef Stalin said. Or, at least, a variation of this simplified version. But the brutal dictator was right. Ultimately, it’s whoever gets to decide what a “vote” is will be the one to decide if the person who cast that actually voted.
We see the same thing every time Donald Trump is engaged in a debate, whether against Republicans in the 2015-16 primary, against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election, or last night. Sure enough, while comments from people watching the debate between Trump, Joe Biden, and Chris Wallace—the supposed moderator who became Trump’s second debate opponent—the consensus was that Trump got aggressive, that he missed opportunities to “make his case” to the undecided, and most of all to take out Biden decisively.
Not so fast. Let’s see who counts the “votes.” In fact, in post-debate online polls, Trump was the winner. Again. Like he always is.
You’d think the other side would have figured this out by now. Trump’s Team knows from its early experience that it’s who counts the votes that matter. Or, in this case, it’s who controls the post-debate polls that matter. And that would be Trump’s army of loyal fans, who swarm to sites to ensure the “votes” are correctly cast.
Last night was no different. Telemundo—hardly a Trump-friendly site—had Trump the winner by more than 2:1 by the time I hit the hay. Mickey Kaus, who favors Trump’s immigration policies but is hardly enamored of the man himself, noted on his Twitter feed that the overwhelming number of his followers thought Trump did famously. Several other snap polls had the same result, if not the same margin. Democrat strategist James Carville said that Biden should “think long and hard whether they want to put the country through this again.”
Others in the Biden camp were less than excited about his performance. Nate Silver said, “Biden wasn’t especially sharp.” Dave Wasserman said that Biden “didn’t do much to dispel” perceptions of his dementia or concerns about his age. “Biden was not at his sharpest. He’s almost 78 and looked/sounded it.” Joy Reid asked, “If you were Joe Biden’s team, would you do another one?” Wolf Blitzer said he “wouldn’t be surprised . . . if this is the last presidential debate between these two candidates . . ..” The Atlantic said, “cancel the debates,” as did Slate. Although initially Senator Chris Coons told Politico Biden should not commit to further debates, that did not appear to be a winning strategy. Quickly Kate Bedingfield dismissed that claim.
In full damage-control mode, as with 2016, after the immediate snap polls, the “majors” such as CNN and CBS get involved and more carefully manipulate their results showing Biden won. But the damage was done.
It didn’t help that Biden almost certainly had an earpiece with information coming in. He spent much of his time looking down as if to concentrate on what was being said in his ear. A staffer said “Good luck” to him through the earpiece and Biden repeated it out loud at the start of the debate.
Earlier, despite having agreed to a physical check for electronic devices, the Biden team backed away from that agreement. In fact, the wires can be seen here:
Most conservatives, though agreeing that Trump often talked too fast and too much, agreed that Biden lost, especially when he couldn’t answer the question about calling the mayor of Portland to stop the violence or having a rejoinder to Trump’s correct statement that he didn’t have one law enforcement group backing him. Other conservative pundits likewise had Trump the clear winner, and, as Rush Limbaugh always says, “The aggressor sets the rules.” Last night, Trump was clearly the aggressor.
But let’s return to the Telemundo poll. For those of you searching for the reason for Trump’s aggressiveness, look no further.
President Donald Trump gestures while speaking during the first presidential debate Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Trump has been slowly but very steadily moving Hispanics and black males behind him. Last night was the knockout blow. While suburban Karen's might have cringed at Trump’s “bullying,” there is a totally different perception among people of color. Loud and aggressive speech is not viewed the same in these communities as snowflake speech. Have you ever watched two black women go at it? Hispanic males would be anything but repelled by Trump’s macho deconstruction of the infantile Biden. I could be wrong, but I think this is the key to Trump’s entire attitude. Team Trump likely calculated that they had reached the end of the line with the Karen's. The only thing remaining that would turn the holdouts would be more riots in their neighborhoods. Trump has no control over that. But there is still plenty of room for growth among Hispanics as a whole and black males. (Black females, by and large, are in the Karen Cart this election). And it was here that Trump’s debate strategy is paying off.
Democrats should be terrified of the Telemundo poll. This is an area where the Trump-bots normally don’t tread. It was unlikely this was part of the 2016-type post-debate “how to win” strategy. This was spontaneous. And for the Democrats, it was spontaneous combustion.
Larry Schweikart is the co-author with Michael Allen of the New York Times #1 bestseller, A Patriot’s History of the United States, author of Reagan: the American President, and founder of the Wild World of History, a history curriculum website that features full US and World History curriculum for grades 9-12, complete with teacher guides, student workbooks, maps/charts, tests, and videos for each unit (www.wildworldofhistory.com).