After that disastrous first presidential debate in September, Donald Trump and Joe Biden managed to pull it together for round two. A lot of the words out of President Trump’s mouth last night were still incomprehensible or untrue, but he generally managed to wait his turn to say them and do so in his soft voice. Biden also kept his cool, as Trump repeatedly accused the Democratic presidential nominee and his son Hunter of being involved in shady foreign business dealings.
Trump wound snippets of this theory—which originates with Rudy Giuliani and was published by the New York Post—throughout what was otherwise a fairly subdued and substantive second debate.
If you closely follow election news and online media/tech controversies, much of what Trump said on stage last night may have been familiar, or at least not inscrutable. But less extremely plugged-in voters can’t have known what to make of Trump’s scattered insinuations and accusations about the Biden family. Trump careened wildly between random pieces of his Biden conspiracy theory, wielding references to laptops, nicknames, and Anthony Bobulinski like weapons without ever explaining fundamentally what he was talking about.
(If you’re curious about Bobulinski, who was Trump’s guest at the debate last night, check out this Wall Street Journal article, which found “no role for Joe Biden” in a Chinese oil venture that Bobulinski was trying to set up with Hunter Biden and several other partners in 2017.)
Trump—accustomed to slagging Biden in front of his online fan club, at adoring campaign rallies, and to Fox News sycophants—treated the general audience for last night’s debate as if they, too, obviously kept up with the same preoccupations as right-wing Twitter. It was a symptom of a malady Jane Coaston diagnosed in detail yesterday: “Trump’s presidential campaign is too online“:
To be Extremely Online is not simply to be literally connected to the internet (as you likely are at this very moment), but to be deeply enmeshed in a world of internet culture, reshaped by internet culture, and, most importantly, to believe that the world of internet culture matters deeply offline.
Being Extremely Online is both a reformation of the delivery of ideas—shared through words and videos and memes and GIFs and copypasta—and the ideas themselves, a world in which Twitter effectiveness counts as political effectiveness despite Twitter’s comparatively small audience.
The importance of those ideas is then judged not by their real-world impact but on their corresponding popularity or infamy in the world of Online. A trending topic on Twitter becomes a critical locus of entirely online discussion, a Facebook post becomes an infamous online reference for months to come, an entire infrastructure can arise to foment the celebrity of a person you would have never heard of had you not baked in the furnace of being Extremely Online.
It’s also clearly a reaction to Democrats focusing for years on alleged Trump ties to Russia and Ukraine, as well as what seems like an attempt to make this Biden Crime Family business play the role that Hillary Clinton’s private email server did in 2016.
Trump’s insinuations last night may have been convoluted and without merit, but they were able to draw Biden into back-and-forth accusations about who was the real foreign stooge—exchanges that gave Trump another chance to claim that Democrats are still obsessed with Russia.
The question is: Does anyone outside the ranks of either party’s most rabid bases really care? “Foreign meddling” news fatigue set in long ago.
It’s hard to believe either candidate benefited from these exchanges. Americans say they hate mudslinging, especially when it’s removed from everyday issues. If you don’t know anything more than what you’re seeing on stage last night, you probably thought this was, at best, politics as usual—at worse, a sign that the whole system is corrupt and neither candidate is worth backing.
The most contentious moments of last night’s debate came over immigration, with Trump knocking Biden for horrible policies that the Obama/Biden administration started—and that Trump continued and expanded.
Who built the cages is Trump’s rejoinder? If he had torn them down it would be one thing. But he filled them!
— shikha sood dalmia (@shikhadalmia) October 23, 2020
Trump’s question “Who built the cages?” ignores that his administration deliberately undertook a policy that predictably expanded the practice a lot—and some admin figures said that expansion was part of the point.
— Ramesh Ponnuru (@RameshPonnuru) October 23, 2020
Asked about the 545 migrant children who were separated from their parents on Trump’s orders and whose parents now can’t be found, Trump said they were being well taken care of.
Just in case anyone is following me who’s writing a fact check on this, most of the 545 kids whose parents still haven’t been contacted have been released to sponsors (generally relatives) in the US. So Trump’s “well taken care of” is total BS, but not for the reason you assume.
— Dara Lind (@DLind) October 23, 2020
More Reason coverage of the second presidential debate:
• The Republican antitrust lawsuit is a progressive dream.
• New research finds “that sanctuary policies reduce deportations by one-third, but that those policies do not reduce deportations of people with violent criminal convictions. It also finds that sanctuary has no measurable effect on crime.”
• Yet another anti-Section 230 bill (see also):
#Section230 emerging reg track: Stop Suppressing Speech Act of 2020:
bill text: https://t.co/EDN2qwoCzN
230 red line: https://t.co/zMmc2bYtxq
230 bill tracker: https://t.co/twoOfZMBcs
— Jess Miers (@jess_miers) October 22, 2020
• Peter Suderman explains that Rudy Giuliani scene in Borat.
• The White House is once again spreading fake news about human trafficking:
— Carol Fenton (@cfpdx) October 22, 2020