First Debate: reaction


Let’s say you had to choose between “decency” versus the “obnoxious arsehole” as your tribal leader? Most of us would choose the decency candidate every time over the arsehole.

But how about a “decent but weak” candidate versus the “strong but an arsehole” leader?

Well, that’s a bit more complicated. Strong is good. We want a strong leader, ruthless when required, to defend us in a tough and scary world. We can live with then being an arsehole if they protect us and our families.

A decent but weak leader might be the nicer one, maybe the one you would rather have a drink with, but are they going to be able to defend your tribe? If they are weak, probably not. And that is important in a tough world filled with dangerous competitors.

And finally, how about the strong versus weak candidate? Well, that’s a no-brainer, you will always go for the strong leader.

Within the context of the US elections, the Democratic Party and their allies in the corporate media are promoting the first narrative. Trump is the obnoxious arsehole and Biden is the nice, decent candidate who can restore honour to the United States.

The Republicans are promoting the “strong versus weak” narrative, with Biden the weak, liberal leader who isn’t up to the job of being Commander in Chief.

My sense is that the voters, by the end of these round of debates, in particular the undecided voters, will see the middle narrative; a weak but decent Biden versus a strong President Trump who is also an obnoxious arsehole.

The question then becomes who will the American electorate vote for on election day and which factor wins, decency over strength in the privacy of the ballot box.

I agree with the verdict of two contrarian voices, Scott Adams and Tom Luongo, that Trump’s performance was very poor.

Indeed, Tom wrote that Trump couldn’t have performed worse last night and Scott Adams has withdrawn his support (temporarily at least) for Trump as a consequence of that debate.

Having said that, both also agree that Biden probably performed the best he can, given his clear cognitive decline over the last year.

Assuming that the two further debates happen, the likely trajectory is that, with expectations reshuffled, Trump will perform better, or be seen to have been versus the 1st debate and Biden will perform worse. That’s not a certainty but it is certainly likely.

After all, historians note that incumbent presidents normally screw-up their first debate. Obama famously performed badly against Mitt Romney in 2012 but went on to win that election comfortably. A poor 1st debate is not necessarily the end of the world for a sitting president. It’s true that Trump is behind in the polls and needed a better performance last night, which is why I call it a narrow Biden win.

However, I also agree with those who say that Trump came across as the more dominant candidate in the debate in comparison to Biden. If President Trump is to win this election, he needs to improve his game, tone down the aggression and ruthlessly expose Joe Biden as a weak candidate who isn’t up for the job.

If he can do that, he will most likely win the election.

Whilst the debate was definitely a setback for the president, I don’t think its necessarily game over. I know some will disagree with me on that one. If you do, check out the comments from the CNN focus group of undecided voters after that debate. The majority who spoke were pro-Trump*. Even I was surprised by that.

In 2016, I remember when the “grab them by a pussy” video came out shortly before the election (and just before the 2nd debate). It caused an uproar. Trump polling dived, the media overwhelmingly concluded his campaign was finished and most political experts agreed. Only a few of us oddballs still thought he could win, myself on this blog, John Greer and Scott Adams among others.

The lesson from that is be careful to write-off the Donald. He might be down but it is foolhardy to assume he is also out.

*Note that the majority of polls suggest that Biden was seen by the electorate as the winner of the debate in case you assume, I am saying that Trump won that debate among undecided voters. My point being that the Democratic/media narrative isn’t necessarily what undecided voters are seeing.

First Debate: reaction

18 thoughts on “First Debate: reaction

  1. passingthru18 says:

    ‘Trump is the obnoxious arsehole’

    No, Trump is the guy in the debate who said ‘stand by’ to the group The Proud Boys, a violent far-right group and wouldn’t directly condemn white supremacists. HIs own campaign is concerned about it, as well as the GOP in general in relation to certain congressional races.

    I think you need to pay less attention to internet peoples opinions, and more on data and actual news items.


    1. Lawrence says:

      Trump has condemned white supremacy on numerous occasions. He did so to Chris Wallace in the 2016 debates and has done so numerous times since. How often does he need to do so? Once a month? Once a week?

      The entire premise of the ‘fine people’ quote is nonsense.

      “I’m not talking about the neo-nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally”
      Quite how a speech where he made this statement is evidence of his support for white supremacy is fairly baffling.


      1. PassingThru21 says:

        I don’t want to get into a whole debate, but we were -specifically- discussing the debate, and how Trump performed and was perceived.

        But since you decided to go off-topic…

        Trump’s equivocal and ‘cute’ answers (ie pretending to not know who David Duke is during an interview) are well-known, so that’s not going to work too well. And the Charlottesville thing was organized by avowed white nationalists (like Kessler). There were no ‘fine’ people there, the event was explicitly advertised as an alt right one, which is another term for white nationalism.


      2. PassedThruPS says:

        BTW, go look for yourself at the posters advertising the Charlottesville event

        Gee, white nationalists like Richard Spencer boldly advertised as being there. Nothing subtle there.

        But yeah…fine people on both sides in that event..


  2. Hi Passingthru18,

    If I relied, in 2016, on the “data and actual news items” – i.e. the corporate media – I would never have forecast Trump’s victory in the elections.

    It is precisely because I was open to different views that I came to the conclusion that Trump was likely to win the election.

    I will do the same this time around.


    1. HavingPassedThru says:

      Ok, ignore the burning headlines about Trump having Covid, and go with Greer’s astrological forecast that Trump will win 350.

      lol Just kidding you.

      Anyway, I think I’m done commenting on your site. Trump is burnt toast, his campaign is in disarray and deeply worried about internal polling and even if he recovers people know his reckless stupidity got him and others ill. There’s no coming back from that.

      A year ago I would have considered Trump to have a strong likelihood to be re-elected. So I don’t let my personal views of someone’s policies cloud my analysis. Your betting money is lost. I hope it wasn’t a lot.


      1. Look, it’s ok to disagree. The world would be very boring if we all agreed with each other!

        I heard arguments similar to yours throughout 2016 – look at the polls! Hilary is going to win!! – and that argument, persuasive as it seemed, was based on the premise that the mainstream polling was accurately capturing what was actually going to happen on election day.

        We now know the pollsters broadly got it wrong (with a few exceptions) for complicated reasons, partly over-sampling Democrats, incorrectly deciding that the undecided voters would swing to Hilary rather than Trump and possibly (it’s controversial) not counting potential covert Trump voters. Also, not factoring those who don’t normally vote e.g. non-college white rural voters, coming out to vote, often for the 1st time, for a president.

        The more I look into the polling this time around the more confident I am that the pollsters – at least most of them anyway – have got it wrong, again.

        Looking at registration numbers, turnout, the enthusiasm gap between Trump and Biden and those pollsters (who accurately predicted the 2016 outcome) who suggest that among likely voters this is a much closer race in battlefield states I would conclude that Trump can still win this.

        It is certainly possible I am wrong but, on the balance of probabilities, I still think Trump is more likely to win this election. I’ve given my reasons on this blog before and if you don’t agree with it, that’s fine.

        As for John Greer, he is only one data source I am looking at. Check out the Primary Model – one of the most successful predicative models around – which basically ignores the polls and looks at enthusiasm for the candidates via the primary process. That professor is predicting a Trump win with 362 of the EC vote. 362! I have no idea if that will happen or not, but if it does, you will be eating a lot of humble pie on the 4th November!

        As for my bets, don’t worry, I’ve only placed a very modest amount on so far and, assuming Trump makes a full recovery from Covid, I will review the likely EC map over the next few weeks and probably make further bets closer to the election day.

        At the end of the day, you don’t have to read my blog and there are lots of blogs which rely on the polls and predict a Biden win.


  3. PassedThru25 says:

    I did’t mean to come off rude, just that we seem to circle the same points over and over. I’ll do one last response before the election

    Your prediction regarding a large enough relenting of the virus that Trump’s election chances would be enhanced have not born fruit, and not just because the outbreak in the WH–

    The United States reported 57,420 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, the highest daily totals since mid-August, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

    New cases are rising in 33 states across the South, East and Midwest. Cases continue to surge in the nation’s Great Plains region, with Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming reaching record highs for average new cases, among other states. Coronavirus outbreaks have been on the rise in the nation’s Great Plains after they were largely concentrated first on the East Coast and then in America’s Sun Belt states.

    Officials have grown increasingly concerned about rising coronavirus cases across the country as the nation enters its fall and winter seasons. Health experts have also warned that the coming flu season could further challenge the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic.

    On Thursday, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said he’s “not comfortable” with the level of U.S. coronavirus cases, noting that it could become more difficult to deal with the virus as people increasingly move indoors during the colder months. More than 7.6 million people in the U.S. have contracted coronavirus during the pandemic, according to Hopkins data. The virus has now killed more than 213,000 people in the U.S.

    The Labor Department reported Friday that nonfarm payrolls increased by 661,000 in September, held back by declines in government employment and an exodus of workers from the labor force.

    In normal times, that type of hiring pace would be considered a sign of a robust job market. The total, in fact, would have been the best month the U.S. had seen since 1983 – if these were normal times and not amid the Covid-19 era that has changed the benchmarks by which economic data is measured.

    As it stood, the total was a fairly wide miss from Wall Street’s expectation of 800,000. The unemployment rate fell more than expected to 7.9%, but that was mostly due to a sharp decline in labor force participation.

    As far as The Primary Model (or many other models )-

    ‘I heard arguments similar to yours throughout 2016 – look at the polls! ‘

    I didn’t say just look at the polls.

    ‘We now know the pollsters broadly got it wrong ‘

    National polls did pretty well. The RCP average before the election had Hillary winning by 3.2 points. She won the popular vote by 2.1 points. That’s within the MOE. State polls were obviously a big problem, but why pretend pollsters have not improved their methodologies? They did better in 2018 than 2016 overall. I’ll once again point out the people using your argument, like Greer, were claiming the Dems would probably not take the House. The polls said they would, and they gained over 40 seats. The polls also indicated the GOP would retain the Senate, which they did.

    Longtime GOP pros are expressing emotions ranging from deep concern to resignation and deep depression. One told me they were resigned to a “Reagan-Carter style blowout,” referencing the 1980 election in which the challenger beat the incumbent by nearly 10 percentage points in a 489-49 Electoral College win. (It was a bad night for downballot Democrats, too.) Others weren’t quite so expressive, but let’s just say they’re still greatly concerned. The fears among Republicans are either that the president’s political problems have metastasized to downballot candidates, or that disillusioned Republicans will opt to stay home, dooming GOP Senate and House candidates.

    One set of data would seem to back that up. The U.S. Elections Project, run by University of Florida political scientist and voter-turnout expert Michael McDonald, shows that as of Sunday, 3,806,589 votes had already been cast. In Florida, Iowa, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota, the reporting states that reveal party registrations, 55 percent of the votes had been cast by Democrats, 23 percent by Republicans, seven-tenths of a point by minor-party members, and 21 percent by those with no party affiliation. In the key battleground states Florida and North Carolina, Democrats cast 54 and 53 percent of the ballots already in, respectively, while Republicans accounted for 28 percent in Florida and 17 percent in North Carolina. Whether it ends up being quite that imbalanced remains to be seen.


  4. lookingforintelligentdisagreement says:

    The reasons I think the polls will do better this time:
    1. Biden’s absolute total is higher than Clinton’s. He is over 50% in many polls. Being ahead 52-48 is much better than being ahead 45-40.
    2. Trump is the incumbent with a clear record to evaluate him on. There is a well established rule of thumb that lacking a popular incumbent, undecideds break for the challenger, like they did for Trump in 2016. Clinton was not an incumbent, but she was the status quo candidate. This year Trump is the status quo candidate. Trump’s core won’t collapse, but it’s easy to find attrition at the edges of the 2016 Trump electorate, mostly based on his COVID record, but also his temperament..
    3. The issue that Trump rates worst on, the pandemic, is dominating the news. I always thought that if there was a spike in some states in October it would be bad for him. Little did I figure that there would be a spike in the White House. Trump desperately needs for the news cycle to be about something else. But since he is rushing his return, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he has a relapse and has to go back to Walter Reed again.


    1. All good points.

      The polling right now looks grim for Trump and even the political betting markets have given up and have now priced in a Biden win.

      The big question remains, are the mainstream polling largely right or are they as bad or even worse then 2016? One forgets that places like Michigan, at this point in the race, showed a comfortable lead for Hilary which was wiped out by election day.

      I remain skeptical about the polls and that has grown the more I read about them and how they get their numbers. However, they can’t be dismissed entirely.

      One thing that has interested me is the fact that both campaigns don’t take public polling too seriously. They rely on their on internal numbers, which drives them on their strategy e.g. where to buy ads, invest money and send their key candidates. Right now, both sides are focusing on PA.

      Now, the public polls show PA with a comfortable Biden lead (over 7 points) –

      Indeed, there are two polls show Biden above by double-digits! So ask yourself, why is the Biden camp focusing so heavily on PA if their own internals showed them winning comfortably, if not by a landslide in 3 weeks? It doesn’t smell right.

      If the public polls were right, Biden would be spending time and tv ads on Texas which is allegedly a battlefield state this time around.

      I’m sorry, the behavior of both camps doesn’t quite fit what the public polls are suggesting. This remains a tighter race then you think, but I would say that it is certainly feasible and possible that Biden can win this one.



    I don’t think the polls were wrong when they had that big lead for Clinton in mid October. Trump had a surge at the end and polls are always bad at catching surges at the end. Polls operate on information from days ago and a surge at the end is too sudden to measure. The polls caught the surge but underestimated it. I remember seeing it in the closing days, you can look up Real Clear Politics 2016 history and see it started around Oct 25. So their error in 2016 is fairly easy to understand.

    And the question now is whether Trump can have a surge again. But this time he has a larger deficit to make up and a much smaller group of undecideds to do it from. And a real record to explain away. Biden is focusing on everything – because he can. He is spending in PA – so you think he would ignore it? He is spending in Texas too. He is spending in a huge expanded map of battleground states.

    Don’t get me wrong. In any normal election, Biden would be a weak candidate. But this is not a normal election and Trump is uniquely weak. I don’t take polls that show a 15 point lead literally. And it also seems like many Republicans believe they are possibly in for a drubbing and I see early hints at rats running from a sinking ship, a process that can become self-reinforcing. So while I can dream and hope for a true repudiation of Trump and Trumpism, I take nothing for granted. There is zero complacency in the opposition to Trump.

    It’s now mid-October. If Trump is going to win, he needs a strong surge and it has to start pretty soon. I’m sure we will both be watching with eagle eyes. Note that the election this year is five days earlier on the calendar. Time really is running out for him.


    1. Have to disagree with that one.

      The polls never got some of those hard to catch rural Trump voters throughout that race. And I don’t think things have improved since then, at least if you trust the folks at and

      And those pollsters got 2016 right unlike most other pollsters. Interestingly, their approach to polling is more rigorous and embraces difference approaches to get to different segments of the electorate compared to “mainstream” polling.

      Based on the polling being done by TG and PP, Big Data in 2016, Trump is looking increasingly good in Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Georgia and has Ohio and Utah sorted.

      The Rust Belt looks like it may be leaning Democratic but still competitive. And its for that reason both campaigns are pouring resources into Pennsylvania, which with 20 EC votes, could swing it. If Trump gets the above states in his red camp, winning PA takes him over the line with 280 EC votes.

      PP poll on PA is coming out today and that will be a fascinating read. That will tell us if Trump’s handling of his Covid infection has damaged him, and if so, how much.

      In regard to internal polls, have a read of this. Trump’s internal polling saw that he had a good chance of winning over the Rust Belt states.



    Arizona? I think Trump’s attacks on McCain will do him in there. McCain was highly respected by many people who supported Trump and Biden is an easy fit for them. Even if Trump gets a slightly higher percentage of Latino voters than 2016, that can get swamped by an increase in turnout.

    I’ll take a look at People’s Pundit, but across the country there are enough rural folks who are sick of Trump. They were undercounted in 2016, but they cannot make up for shifts in suburbs and Trump fatigue. Across the Trump electorate: military, religious, seniors – there is attrition at the edges and he had no extra to give.

    The world is full of people who got something right once last time. It doesn’t mean much this time. 2020 is not 2016. Michael Moore predicted Trump’s win. He also predicted Romney would win, most of the R leaning polls did. I’m not saying Trump can’t possibly win. I don’t do predictions. If I see any ongoing trend of more than a couple percent going in his direction, I will take it seriously. Like I said, the mainstream polls saw his surge in 2016. But no polling error will make up for his current deficit in the polling averages. But if Trump can narrow it some, then it does get within polling error range.

    BTW, you did notice that Biden is spending $6 million in Texas? Trump is spending zero there. Looks like some of the big donors have given up on him. 2016 proved money is not purely a determinant, but it is not nothing, and maybe is more indicative of where things stand now.


    1. We’ll see.

      My take is that forecasting is the name of the game. If you are not prepared to stick your neck on the line and make a forecast its no fun.

      So what is your forecast? I presume a Biden win but what is the probability?

      I’m sticking to my forecast of a Trump win (60% probability).

      PP poll on PA is not finalised yet, but currently showing a 2 to 3% lead for Biden. Massive caveat, it was still raw yesterday and it might tighten further. PP forecast in 2016 that Trump would win 304 EC seats – I know you don’t particularly rate those with a good forecasting record but I do. This is a competitive race.



    Sorry for mistakenly grabbing your username in the last post. If you are able to fix that, I would appreciate it. I will be more careful.



    I think Trump’s main chance is if Biden does something to cause his own collapse – it’s his to lose. That could be a health disaster or maybe some really bad statement. But after pushing the ridiculous line that Biden is senile, the bar is so low for Biden that it would be had for him to say something that bad. Sure, he’s past his prime. So am I and I am 61. Biden is just a terrible speaker but that doesn’t matter. The election is a referendum on Trump.

    I’m not sure how to put a number on the likelihood but would be inclined to say 75% chance for Biden. I think Trump has about a week to show a real turnaround for me to take his chances more seriously. If the polls are saying the same thing on Oct 22 or so as they are now, I’m pushing those odds to 90%.

    I also think there are lots of signs that Republicans are giving up on his chances, and that is a feedback loop. It’s probably why he is so short on cash. I think Trump has rushed out onto the campaign trail too fast after his disease and a relapse is a real possibility. That can happen to anybody who rushes back too fast during a recovery. Some Trump supporters also thought the Supreme Court hearings would help him, but it seems that a certain segment of his supporters see her confirmation as mission accomplished and Trump doesn’t matter to them so much after that. Win the Supreme Court and lose the White House. That was the expectation all along for them.

    Even Trafalgar has Biden ahead in PA now. Bottom line: 2020 is not 2016. There is a world of difference between being the outsider challenger and the incumbent. What worked for Trump in 2016 is not available this year. He wasn’t a genius in 2016, he was lucky.


    1. Fair enough. You’ve put your chips on the table so to speak.

      As for the GOp giving up on Trump, that might be the case with the Washington DC types but not among the actual GOP voters out there. And we saw the same in 2016 and those “insiders” were proved wrong. Paul Ryan I’m thinking of you!

      I still remember the story (real apparently) of a elite group of GOP insiders who decided to drink whisky and prepare for the worst that election night. They prepared for a Democratic landslide. Early in the morning, hearing huge cheers from the nearly room (that was actually watching the results) they stumbled out, stunned, to see a GOP sweep of the presidency, House and Senate.

      Trafalgar and PP both have Trump narrowly behind Biden in PA. At the same time in 2016, Clinton was doing better in PA for the PP polls. Listening to PP, they think Trump has a good chance to win this state and we are still 3 weeks away.

      I’ve been reading and watching a huge amount of data recently and nothing has changed my opinion that the majority of polls are wrong, this election is far closer and he has a good chance of winning the election.



    I also know a story. Ex-military, conservative Christian. Voted for Trump in 2016 – despite him acting like a 3 year old, he said. He hoped he would mature in office. Instead he “regressed to acting like a two year old.” Voting for Biden. The conservatives in western Nebraska who can’t deal with Trump’s division and temperament. Voted for him before, voting for Biden now. My hiking buddy who thought Trump would cut the military budget and bring all of our troops home. All. He’s not voting for Biden, but he’s not voting for Trump either. These stories are a dime a dozen. They come from all over.

    But if you want to believe one or two polls over a couple dozen others, then we will just see in a few weeks.


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