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Trump Won the Debate – With his Base

A Commentary By Brian C. Joondeph

Presidential debate number one was a slugfest, with President Trump coming out swinging. Poor Joe Biden didn’t know what hit him. He has granted few interviews during the campaign season, with scripted questions and answers on a teleprompter but no body slams from the likes of Trump the Barbarian.

One person on the stage, however, fought back hard. I refer to debate “moderator” Chris Wallace, tag-teaming with Biden to try to take down the president. Wallace lost control of his moderating duties early on, so he then opted to play the role of CNN’s Candy Crowley eight years ago during the Romney-Obama debates.

So who won? CNN, in a post-debate poll claimed, “Six in 10 say Biden won the debate.” That’s a rather low score from a network that has not had a kind or favorable word to say about Trump in the past five years. Looking at the poll internals paints a picture that must be causing dyspepsia at CNN. CNN’s pollster queried 568 registered voters, 39 percent Democrat and 25 percent Republican. Despite a 14-point Democrat oversampling, only six-in-10 thought Biden won.

Telemundo surveyed Spanish-speaking Americans and found that Trump won the debate by a two-to-one margin. Seems like Hispanics like a fighter. So does Trump’s base.

This is a base election, and the president knows it, debating accordingly. Voter turnout for a presidential election is typically about 61 percent. Assuming each party has similar turnout, Trump needs 61 percent of his base to vote on November 3. James Carville may have said, “It’s the economy stupid,” but in reality, it’s the base that determines elections.

Over four million 2012 Obama voters stayed home in 2016, handing Trump the keys to the White House. If they all voted for Clinton, she would be the one running for reelection today. Uninspiring candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney failed to rally their bases, and both lost winnable elections. Trump knows to not make that mistake.

Trump is not trying to appeal to undecided voters, a small sliver of the electorate, three percent in the most recent Rasmussen Reports survey. Instead it’s about his base.

Election fraud is in the air, with daily stories of lost and found ballots. Trump needs a healthy margin of victory to avoid a post-election nightmare. Paraphrasing Hugh Hewitt, “If it’s not close, they can’t cheat.”

Trump came onto the debate stage fighting, just as his base wants from their Republican nominee. GOP voters have long dreamt of a bare-knuckle brawler, in the fighting style of a Pelosi, Schumer, Schiff, Reid or Waters. Instead of playing offense, elected Republicans prefer defense, groveling and explaining why they are not really the racist, sexist bigots Democrats and the media constantly accuse them of being.

Trump wasn’t acting either. He was righteously angry at Democrats (Joe Biden) and the media (Chris Wallace) for treating him horribly over the past five years, maligning him, his family and his character. Toward the end of the debate, Trump verbalized his frustration, saying, “We've caught 'em, we caught them all, we got it all on tape."

He was referring to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe’s recent declassification confirming what many of us already knew - that the Russia hoax was cooked up by Hillary Clinton and her campaign and the Obama-Biden administration knew about it and pushed it by weaponizing the CIA, FBI and Department of Justice.

Biden scored points by not falling on his face, despite lapsing into his “c’mon man” schtick and bumbling over words and numbers. If that’s the best he can do after taking most of last month off the campaign trail to prep for the debate, how will he prepare for the next one, two weeks away, when he needs to be out campaigning?

For Trump, the debate is just another day at the office. There is little difference between a debate, a Trump rally or a press conference facing a hostile White House press corp. Trump could easily do a daily debate, while Biden’s handlers in the media are suggesting that he skip any remaining debates.

Trump wasn’t talking to the media Tuesday night but instead to his base. He projected the same bravado as he did four years ago when he quickly dispatched 16 qualified primary candidates and then pummeled “the smartest woman in the world.”

Why change a winning formula? While his style doesn’t appeal to NeverTrumpers and Wellesley grad soccer moms, they are not his base. His goal during the 90 minutes on stage was to reassure his supporters that he hasn’t gone wobbly, as so many other Republicans have once elected.

That’s what will get Trump reelected. Biden and Harris create little enthusiasm, with miniscule crowds at their campaign events. There are more people in line for the toilet at a Trump rally than are in the audience to hear Sleepy Joe.

So who won? Trump did by reassuring his base that he is the same fighter he was when he descended the escalator at Trump Tower in June 2015.

Brian C. Joondeph, MD, is a Denver-based physician and freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in American Thinker, Daily Caller, Rasmussen Reports and other publications. Follow him on Facebook,  LinkedIn, Twitter, Parler and QuodVerum.

See Other Commentaries by Brian C. Joondeph.

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