The meeting between Donald Trump and Joe Biden revealed that age has taken something away from each of them. While they managed to convey a combative image, consistent with the personality of each of them, it also showed some emerging weaknesses.
Will the next two presidential debates produce a different conclusion? That’s unlikely because Trump displays a remarkable consistency in his attitude and behavior. He was overbearing and highly dishonest, not the makings of a good debater.
Biden’s ability to gain traction was undermined by being continuously interrupted and Trump’s efforts to keep him on the defensive.
Trump seemed to believe that being the incumbent president and not merely the Republican candidate for president accorded him special privileges in the debate. He could ignore the rules because, after all, he is the president and also, in his view, a superior intellect.
Moderator Chris Wallace clearly wanted to remain neutral and out of the debate, but it was his job to defend the mutually agreed rules. That put him on a collision course with Trump. Under the circumstances, he did well.
But he made one mistake. This was not a debate between the President and a former Vice President. This was a debate between two people of equal status – the nominees of two political parties. They should have been treated and addressed equally and without official titles.
The one clear lesson was that the debate was between two older men of somewhat reduced talents from their prime days. They are the oldest pair of candidates to seek the presidency.
That makes unusually important the debate between Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, and Mile Pence, her Republican counterpart.
First, it is highly likely they will conduct themselves in a more orderly manner than characterized the presidential debate. Neither of them has a history of intemperate speaking like Trump. Pence is also less likely to play with the truth as much as Trump, but that could be a real challenge for him.
Voters will be looking at two people, either of whom might face the real possibility of succeeding to the presidency during the next term. If the vice president holds a position “only a heartbeat” away from the top office, it has never been more relevant an observation. That makes their debate unusually important.
Couple the enhanced possibility with their serving as president and their more civil behavior, the vice presidential debate could come closest of all to being the main event in the presidential debate schedule.