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Chrissy Teigen Said She Couldn’t Hear Her Baby’s Heartbeat

The Week

Why Trump’s alpha debate strategy will backfire

Last night, a president with the same abysmal 43 percent approval rating he’s had more or less throughout his miserable tenure was granted an extended opportunity to speak directly to an American public that has suffered through an impossible and horrifying seven months of hardship. Instead of appealing to the better angels of our nature, he spent nearly two hours of his first televised debate with former Vice President Joe Biden behaving like an insufferable, Thanksgiving-wrecking narcissist, impervious to the deleterious effect of his manic hatefulness on the audience and falsely confident that riling up his base with aggressive non-sequiturs would somehow deliver him back to the Oval Office. It did not work, not for him, not for his campaign, not for the Republican Party and especially not for the rapidly vanishing dream that a Democrat and Republican can stand in a room and debate one another, if not with civility, at least with some coherence.The first of three presidential debates between Trump and Biden was ugly in a way that normal language can’t quite capture. Moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, the lived experience of it was like watching a plane carrying someone you care about deeply drop out of the sky in mid-flight and explode into flames. I’ve been to at least 10 funerals that were more fun and spiritually fulfilling than this debate. To call it unbearable would be an affront to the emotion of hopelessness. But if you cut through the thick miasma of these two doddering old men jabbering at each other, what you’ll see is a race that is probably unchanged. And that’s bad for the president and good for Joe Biden.The bottom line is that the president has consistently trailed Biden by 7 percent or more in national polls for months, through upheavals and mass death and scandal, and he needed not just to fight to a draw but to fundamentally change the dynamic of the race. Either Trump or his feckless campaign apparently thought that the answer to this problem was to be the worst possible version of himself.Trump’s strategy fundamentally misunderstands the nature of his electoral peril. Even before the coronavirus disaster, he was mired in the mid-40s in public approval ratings, a problem that can’t be attributed solely to negative partisanship. Throughout his presidency, he has alienated the small number of genuinely independent voters by virtue of his cartoonish contempt for areas of the country that didn’t vote for him, his amplification of fringe right-wing voices previously relegated to the Dark Web, and his unique inability to even masquerade as someone who represents all Americans. A consistently strong economy and a period of relative calm in America’s foreign relations were not nearly enough to get him within sniffing distance of majority support, even at his high points. His inner circle, still drunk on his fluke Electoral College victory in 2016, has never been willing or able to convince him to