Body language often says more than words, as was also seen in Tuesday evening’s debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The aggressive, overbearing, domineering Trump from the previous debate tried to be calm, often with arms wide open.
He held his palms turned towards the host of the debate, as if to say, “It’s not my fault.” The topic, of course, was the epidemic, and Trump was going back and forth between pinning all the responsibility on China and promising a vaccine “in a month.”
In a way, the second, and final, debate was similar to Trump’s third debate in 2016 with Hillary Clinton. Then as well, Trump was behind in the polls and his advisers had made him adopt a much more restrained tone than in previous debates.
This was an inevitable decision again this year, after the negative reactions of the debate watchers to the continuous interruptions by the president, which the moderator of the first debate had failed to control.
Four years ago, Trump, advised well by Steve Bannon, was very disciplined in the last two weeks of the election campaign, hitting relentlessly on a few issues: the jobs lost due to deindustrialization and the corruption of the Washington establishment, represented by Hillary. It was enough to narrowly prevail in the Midwestern states that proved decisive for victory in the Electoral College: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
This year, his team doesn’t seem to be up to the challenge of facing an epidemic that, as of Friday, had caused over 223,000 deaths in the United States: a tragedy that Trump has been minimizing for all these months, refusing to admit any responsibility. On Tuesday night as well, he was evasive, making things easier for Biden, who kept hammering him on COVID-19, saying several times: “This guy never had a plan to fight the epidemic and he doesn’t have one now.”
As if to drive the last nail into his opponent’s coffin, Biden repeated: “It will be a dark, dark winter.”
Of course, Trump the vampire is perfectly capable of rising up from the grave and biting again, bleeding the American people for another four years, but right now he would truly need the help of powerful dark forces to do it. The polls have been giving Biden an advantage for months, not only nationally but also in the key states where the electoral race is decided: Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. In Pennsylvania, Biden seems to be ahead by 7 percentage points. The president risks losing even in traditionally Republican states like Iowa, North Carolina and Arizona. Even the Republican stronghold of Texas could fall. In short, Trump really needs the Devil’s helping hand to win this time as well.
But one must not underestimate the Republicans’ consummate skill in dirty tricks, which allowed them to steal elections more than once, as happened in 2000, when Al Gore had clearly won, both in the popular vote and in Florida, but the maneuvers of the Republican governor and the Supreme Court controlled by Republican-friendly judges gave the presidency to George W. Bush.
In addition, there is the enthusiasm factor that will be in play after Monday, when Amy Coney Barrett, the third Supreme Court judge appointed by Trump during his term, will likely join the court. The Senate will approve her nomination on the 26th, creating a majority of six conservative judges against three: an almost unprecedented success for the Republicans. Many voters who don’t love Trump might consider this an achievement so important that they will forgive him anything else. “He kept his promises,” the Evangelicals might say, who don’t believe he has any faith at all and are often disgusted by him, but are cynical enough to look at the end results, particularly at the possibility, which is finally becoming concrete, of eliminating a woman’s right to have an abortion.
This is a plausible scenario, but it may be too late for Trump: voting is already happening in the United States. Tens of millions of votes by mail have already been sent in, and in some states, including Florida, poll stations are open for early voting. The gap between the two candidates will likely narrow in the last days and hours, but not enough. It remains to be seen what tricks the worst president in American history will have up his sleeve in his attempt to stay in power at all costs.
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