The middle third of Thursday night’s presidential debate in Tennessee got a little lost in the weeds. This was by design, because Donald Trump wanted to make Joe Biden talk about the wildly sketchy foreign-corruption allegations regarding his son Hunter that Rudy Giuliani has been laundering through right-wing media outlets like the New York Post. Biden responded by pointing out (accurately) that Trump has active business deals in authoritarian countries across the world and that he has never been transparent about them because he has never released his tax returns. It went on like this for a while, then segued into who would be tougher on China. Then Biden executed what was likely a rehearsed pivot:
There’s a reason he’s bringing up all this malarkey. There’s a reason for it. 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 is hurting badly. If you are making less than—if you’re a middle-class family, you’re getting hurt badly right now. 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, or are we gonna be able to pay the mortgage, or 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 like I grew up in, Scranton and Claymont. They are in trouble. We should be talking about your families, but that is the last thing he wants to talk about.
(NB: Claymont is the place in Delaware where Biden grew up.)
Trump’s response was … not what you might expect!
That is a typical political statement. “Let’s get off this China thing,” then he looks, “the family, around the table, everything.” Just a typical politician when I see that. I’m not a typical politician, that is why I got elected. “Let’s get off the subject of China, let’s talk about sitting around the table.” Come on, Joe, you can do better.
Joe Biden does consciously turn to the camera and act as if he’s talking to people about how policy affects their family finances, because it’s a standard political signal of empathy, a state of mind completely inaccessible to Donald Trump. Trump cannot imagine why anyone would even pretend to be interested in the problems of losers and their children. He cares about personal dominance, looking important on TV, and getting people who listen to right-wing radio fired up over Colin Kaepernick at big rallies. Paying for college? Boring, and not something he ever plans to think about. In a way, it may have been the most honest thing the president said all night!