Issues & Insights

The Donald’s Second-Half Comeback Against A Razor-Sharp Biden: Was It Enough?

Donald Trump needed a knockout in Thursday night’s debate.

Behind in every poll. Apparently abandoned by key 2016 supporters like older Americans and suburban women. Widely panned for his first-debate performance despite succeeding in rattling the challenger. Not gaining traction even given Hunter’s laptop and other October Surprises besetting Bidenites.

The Donald was looking for a turnaround event like The Gipper’s overnight reversal of Jimmy Carter’s lead. (“There you go again.” “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”)

Did he get it?

In fact, for more than half the 90 minutes, the crafty Joe Biden of old suddenly reappeared onstage – and as he memorably did with callow Paul Ryan eight years ago, took the Chief Executive to school.

The former vice president seemed no doddering codger in advanced stages of cognitive decline. Not just lucid but razor-sharp, and well-armed on issue-after-issue with zinger lines, he repeatedly used the president’s momentum against him while the usually sure puncher wasted numerous opportunities to land big blows.

From the opening bell, the Delawarean deftly kept the “blame Trump” narrative alive on coronavirus, while slipping away from his previous foot-in-mouth declaration of “shutdown-by-expert” by focusing on re-opening with appropriate preparation. Thinking on his feet, he stung the incumbent, who talked of “learning to live” with the virus, with an insistence that the nation was actually “learning to die with it.” And got out of the president’s way as he tripped over himself backtracking from insults of America’s doctor, Anthony Fauci.

Given a Mack truck-sized opening to corner the Democratic nominee in the Parent Trap created by son Hunter, Trump slipped again, bizarrely charging that the ex-veep personally had received payments directed to his son – providing the challenger the opportunity for a dramatic double take and his perhaps most forceful line of the night: that he had not taken “a penny from a foreign source ever in my life.”

What’s more, Biden skillfully flipped the narrative, luring the president into extended and counterproductive disquisitions on his taxes and a meaningless Middle Kingdom bank account – and proceeded to turn Trump’s triumphs with China into another dead-end presidential defense of his relationship with North Korean “thug” Kim Jong Un.

The Donald got badly pummeled by Barack Obama’s wingman in their toe-to-toe trading of blows on health care, the public option and “socialism” – “He’s a very confused guy. He thinks he’s running against someone else. He’s running against me, Joe Biden.” 

And then failed to jump on two consecutive, potentially game-changing Biden gaffes: first, his assertion that “no one lost their insurance on Obamacare” (“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” was rated “Lie of the Year” by left-leaning Politifact). Followed shortly thereafter by the onetime Judiciary chair’s fractured civics lesson that the Founders had brilliantly made it possible for the federal government to deficit spend so that it could bail out states.

Just as the president seemed ready to go down for the count, however, he suddenly found his footing – and his form – as the subject turned to immigration. When the one-time no. 2 tried to hold the administration responsible for 500 refugee children separated from their parents, Trump humiliated his opponent for the absurd asseveration that most “catch-and-release” asylum-seekers returned for hearings.

And taunted him with the question “who built the cages?” that once housed youngsters at the border. (Answer: Obama-Biden.)

Suddenly, the president had gained the upper hand. He countered Biden’s familiar cornball riff on “character on the ballot,” by successfully returning to the former Second Family’s corrupt behavior and mocking attempts to turn the laptop into another “Russia, Russia, Russia! hoax.”

The Donald jiu-jitsued one of moderator Kristen Welker’s few biased moments – yet another effort to position him as a racist by raising his Black Lives Matter comments – with a pointed reminder of protestors’ anti-police “pigs-in-a-blanket” chants and a strong (if characteristically hyperbolic) listing of his accomplishments on behalf of minorities.

While Biden got in another solid counterpunch (“dog whistle as big as a foghorn”), Trump adroitly pivoted to the anti-minority outcomes of the former senator’s crime bill and one of his most powerful arguments, the career politician’s weak record of accomplishment during five decades in the nation’s capital. 

And he surprisingly and decidedly won subsequent exchanges on environmental issues, pointing to the high price tag and radical left authorship of Biden’s climate platform, promising to post his rival’s previous pledges to deep-six fracking, pinning him down on a commitment to eliminate the oil industry and ridiculing the notion of compelling Chinese adherence to global accords.

Yet the president frittered his momentum on the final question, a softball to both candidates which was practically an invitation to repeat his signature re-election slogan – “the best is yet to come” – and to contrast his brilliant second-term agenda with Biden’s expensive promises.

So despite a strong comeback, the president, to channel Lloyd Bentsen, was no Gipper. But did he do enough to stagger his opponent and better position himself to win?

The final scorecard is in the hands of American voters. But from this commentator’s perspective: a draw. At best.

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Bob Maistros

Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at


  • Razor-sharp? Like a bowling ball. And conversely, I thought Trump’s answer to the “softball” was one of his best of the night; “Success will bring us together”.

  • Unfortunately for him, Mr. Maistros’ opinion seems to be very lonely out there this morning; almost every poll conducted by reputable sources gives the debate to Trump by about three to one. Not only that, but Mr. Maistros seems to have swallowed the polling nonsense without a gulp. Polling in all the states important to a Trump victory, and an analysis of early voting trends, spell disaster for Biden and company; Democrats are not showing up the way they traditionally do for early voting while the GOP is registering huge numbers of new voters. The massive Trump rallies compared to paltry backyard gatherings for Biden and his surrogates tell a story similar to that of 2016, and the suddenly “tightening poll numbers” showing Biden’s numbers “declining” from a previously reported and ridiculous “13% lead over Trump” tell us this is 2016 all over again. The polls also suddenly “tightened” days before Crooked lost.

    • The hope that missing/shy Trump voters will put him over the top is whistling in the dark. The president isn’t sneaking up on anyone as he did four years ago. The fact that early voting is huge implies massive turnout, which usually helps Democrats. Trump needs to draw a straight flush once again, which appears unlikely.

      • Straight flush? Please. President Trump is holding a Royal Flush at this point.
        I don’t know what debate you were watching, but it wasn’t the same one i was tuned to.
        All Joe had was the same tiered stump speech talking points he always spews. Scranton, Claymont, Dead kids, Dead Wife. ad nauseum.
        And looking to Yahoo for the news and opinion of the day is akin to going to a Palm Reader for investment advice.

      • Lol Yahoo? Yahoo? Are you kidding me? Well before I clicked on the link I asked myself: far left or moderate in regards to this website. Now I know. 100% far left. Trump cleaned Biden’s clock and only the cultists on the left think otherwise. But isn’t that what always happens?

  • The Trump show has been exhausting but it has revealed, even if the erudite will not affirm it, just how disreputable their politics are, from Hunter Biden’s nuchal grip on pater and patron Joe to Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment hijinks to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Democratic minority in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation. Mr. Trump must hammer these Democratic negatives while making the case for his rational domestic and foreign policies if he is to win this election, since the debate was a draw and provided no knockout blow.

    Tax reform and loosening unnecessarily harsh Obama-era regulations boosted our economy to record levels; normalization of alliance defense expenditures strengthened NATO; and bracing China for theft of American intellectual property, cheating on international trade agreements, currency manipulation, cyber sallies and other malign practices was long overdue. He has strengthened our military while seeking to limit its reaches in hostile lands, a policy Democrats of good character would support if the author was someone else. Ditto his triumphs in Mideast diplomacy.

    In stark contrast, Joe Biden’s larder is loaded with progressive policies offensive to more than half of the electorate. His teleprompter is a far left ventriloquist.

    That this election is the most important in our lifetimes is the only issue both Democrats and Republicans agree on.

  • Not really sure what you watched but I saw Biden stumbling over answers, unable to form sentences, looking at his watch, while Trump was strong, confident and presidential. Biden didn’t deny the laptop was Hunter’s. Biden told my fellow voters in PA that he will end the gas and oil industries, which PA depends on. And for all those who lost their personal insurance under Obamacare, it must have been galling to hear Biden repeat the “lie of the year” that no one lost their coverage. Your opinion is your opinion, but polls out after declare Trump the winner by a mile.

  • A “razor sharp Biden”!? Which one, Jill? Were we watching the same debate? Joe was sweating and stuttering and his eyes looked like Adam Schiff! He couldn’t even remember Giuliani’s name! LOL! Please…

  • Soon as i saw the term ‘razor sharp” for joe ben lying I knew this post was sarcasm. right? If Biden were to win he would be put to pasture before inauguration.

  • He did not watch the same debate I did. Joe Constantly searched for words and seldom came up with needed verbiage. In the end he suggested the end to fossil fuel development to preserve our planet. Total theoretical bullcrap. Clean use of fossil fuel are far more effective than wind or solar. Do the math; let science dictate and give “Donald” the lead. He cares more about us than career politicians who never deliver on promises like my President Trump

  • Draw? Trump cleaned Goofy Joey’s clock. Biden himself brought up the laptop and Rudy “Giovanni” and that was the biggest self-own in history. Aside from that, Trump sounded and looked presidential, reassuring all the so-called wine moms.

    My reaction to your analysis: “C’mon, man!

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