Joe Biden successfully avoided getting entangled in a long, drawn-out battle with President Trump over his controversial son’s laptop at the second and final presidential debate in Nashville on Oct. 22, but is that such a good thing for the Democratic nominee?
The former vice president’s alleged corrupt business dealings with foreign entities that are said to have relied on son Hunter Biden as a conduit are not going to go away as a critical issue in the last days before the Nov. 3 election. Biden was offered a nationally televised forum to give an effective response. He did not, but at the same time, Trump failed to corner him on the topic despite repeated attempts to do so.
Hunter Biden was the 10,000-pound gorilla hovering over the proceedings, which otherwise played out mostly true to form. Whether affected by the presence of a mute button or not, the president was more restrained than usual for this format, giving a sturdy performance that featured no knockout blows. Biden stumbled badly twice as he brought a noticeably more harsh tone to Tennessee, in line with his desire to position himself as the only alternative to a Trump administration.
Painting Trump as the Angel of Death
The night began with yet another long and mostly pointless discussion on the coronavirus crisis. The subject has been thoroughly exhausted at the first presidential debate and various town halls featuring Trump and Biden. Not much new could be said, yet Biden, playing up the doom and gloom theme of life in Trump’s America, made a couple of missteps, one of them glaring.
“220,000 Americans dead,” Biden darkly stated at the beginning of his remarks on the topic. “If you hear nothing else I say tonight, hear this … Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America.”
After personally blaming Trump for each coronavirus death, Biden later took his sinister framing even further.
“He says we’re learning to live with it,” Biden said of Trump’s optimistic view on the crisis. “People are learning to die with it. You folks [at] home will have an empty chair at the kitchen table this morning. That man or wife going to bed tonight, and reaching over to try to touch their … out of habit, where their wife or husband was … is gone,” he coldly stated.
It was all too much. The over-the-top approach significantly reduced the effect of Biden’s “dark winter” attacks on the president. In the course of the conversation, however, his comments turned from grisly to penal.
“What I would do is make sure we have everyone encouraged to wear a mask all the time,” Biden said of his plans to fight the pandemic. That sweeping statement sounded all the more authoritarian when combined with Biden’s acerbic tone. It’s highly questionable that proposing a national mask mandate is a good way to appeal to undecided moderate voters. But Biden was intent on shaming Trump over his handling of the crisis. It will open him up to much criticism as coronavirus social-curb fatigue continues to swell across the nation.
Hunter and Hunted
The second topic was national security. Trump lost little time in trying to call Biden out on his alleged nefarious financial dealings abroad. “You were getting a lot of money from Russia,” Trump asserted, referring to reports that the wife of a former Moscow mayor had paid the Biden family $3.5 million.
“They were paying you a lot of money. And they probably still are,” Trump continued. “But now, with what came out today, it’s even worse. All of the emails … the horrible emails of the kind of money that you were raking in, you and your family. And Joe, you were vice president when some of this was happening, and it should have never happened. And I think you owe an explanation to the American people.”
“Somebody just had a news conference a little while ago who was essentially supposed to work with you and your family, but what he said was damning,” Trump added, this time referring to former Hunter Biden business partner Tony Bobulinski. “And regardless of me, I think you have to clean it up and talk to the American people. Maybe you can do it right now.”
Bobulinski has said he has “firsthand knowledge” that Biden has discussed his son’s overseas dealings. Despite Trump’s obvious negative intentions, Biden was being granted an opportunity to make a bold and detailed defense of his family’s activities. Instead, he chose to dodge, settling for broad and non-specific jargon.
“I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life,” Biden said before trying to turn the tables on Trump by slamming the president for not releasing his tax returns. Trump tried to give a short answer on the tax issue and then swiftly return the onus to Biden, in the process delivering his best moment of the evening.
“I don’t make money from China. You do,” Trump said. “I don’t make money from Ukraine. You do. I don’t make money from Russia. You made three and a half million dollars, Joe … They even have a statement that, ‘we have to give 10% to the Big Man,'” Trump said. Biden is said to be called “The Big Guy” in emails found on Hunter Biden’s laptop.
“You’re The Big Man, I think … Joe, what’s that all about? It’s terrible.”
Trump visibly had Biden on the hook, and his opponent appeared anxious to reply. Unfortunately for the president, NBC moderator Kristen Welker chose to step in at this very moment and pivot the conversation back to Trump’s tax returns.
It was only a brief pause, and Welker did indeed circle back to ask Biden about his family’s dealings with China. But Trump’s tax returns had been given equal status to the roiling Hunter Biden scandal, and Biden did not fail to utilize the escape hatch accorded him.
“Nothing was unethical,” Biden replied. “Here’s the deal. With regard to Ukraine, we had this whole question about whether or not, because he was on the board … of Burisma, a company, that somehow I had done something wrong. Yet every single solitary person when he [Trump] was going through his impeachment, testifying under oath who worked for him, said I did my job impeccably. I carried out U.S. policy. Not one single solitary thing was out of line.”
It was a pat answer woefully short on details. It settles nothing. As the laptop drama continues to unfold, Biden may end up regretting that he didn’t take a more forceful stance on the issue.
Biden’s second major misstep of the evening came on that favorite progressive issue, climate change. It may prove extremely costly. “Would you close down the oil industry?” Trump asked Biden as he discussed pollution.
“I would transition from the oil industry, yes,” Biden replied.
“Oh, that’s a big statement,” a pouncing Trump immediately declared.
“It is a big statement,” Biden agreed.
“Why would you do that?” a surprised Welker asked in a noticeably disheartened tone.
“Because the oil industry pollutes, significantly,” Biden stated. “It has to be replaced by renewable energy over time. Over time. And I’d stop giving to the oil industry; I’d stop giving them federal subsidies. He won’t give federal subsidies to solar and wind. Why are we giving it to [the] oil industry?”
“That’s maybe the biggest statement, in terms of business … because basically what he’s saying is he’s going to destroy the oil industry,” Trump happily exclaimed. “Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania? Oklahoma? Ohio?”
One has to wonder if all those interminable climate change exchanges throughout 11 leftist-oriented Democratic primary debates finally tripped up Biden here. Having done a complete 180 on banning fracking in the general election, one can hardly imagine that Biden would want to threaten oil jobs less than two weeks before Nov. 3.
Biden has defined himself as the anti-Trump candidate. Nothing changed in this final set-to. He is staking everything on this one card. Will it be enough to secure the White House?
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