Trump was his own worst nightmare at the final debate: low energy and boring

  • After all the debates, we know Trump's technique by now: He struts, makes rubber-faced sarcastic smirks, and heckles his rivals.
  • But faced with a competent moderator and the threat of a mute button, he was as neutered as any untalented bully would be. All he could do was resort to his well-worn act of pat insults that barely landed.
  • Unable to once again heckle his way to a dishonorable draw in the last debate of his political life, Trump looked gassed.
  • In the 2020 campaign's final days, Trump's debate performance reveals him as tired, boring, low energy. 
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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President Donald Trump's greatest strength as a campaigner has always been his ability to project the confidence to dominate any room by sheer force of personality. 

After 11 Republican primary debates and three debates against Hillary Clinton in 2016, plus two 2020 debates versus Joe Biden, we know the technique by now. 

Trump struts, makes sarcastic smirks, and heckles his rivals. He blathers slanderous word salads, makes everyone with an intelligent thought in their head convulse, and walks off dominating the headlines. 

But like any untalented bully, when tethered to rules requiring a level playing field, he's neutered.

During the second and final debate Trump was forced to act "normal." And if tonight's debate performance is any indication, normal Trump is a tired act. 

The mute button muted Trump

Moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News would not allow Trump to badger his way through 90 minutes of the 14th and final debate of the 2020 campaign, insisting that the allotted speaking times be adhered to. 

Not that moderating a debate featuring a shameless, incoherent blowhard like Trump is an enviable duty, but Welker's unflashy competence was hugely refreshing because it has been so hard to come by in Trump debates. 

There can also be no doubt that the threat of a mute button — installed after Trump's historically disgraceful performance in the first debate — helped keep Trump at bay during the two-minute answer portions.

That's not to say Trump matured into a person who has any respect for objective truth, he was still a walking gaslighter. But in contrast to previous debates, he wasn't allowed to use his typical tactics with the kind of impunity to which he's become accustomed. 

Trumpbots like Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel insinuated that the president was treated unfairly by Welker, but Trump's most stinging defeat is that in the final debate of his political life he inhabited two of the qualities he most fears and loathes. He was low-energy and boring. 

Trump, tellingly, barely tried to defend his own record with facts. All he could do was flail around with pat lines about the supposedly daming fact that Joe Biden has spent 47 years in government as a senator and vice president — and hasn't yet accomplished the things he'd like to accomplish as president. 

But Trump was unable to articulate — with either quippy "Build The Wall" lines or slightly more substantive ideas — how he would be any different. 

For instance, while Biden has a truly awful record when it comes to criminal justice, Trump's attempt to coronate himself as the savior of criminal justice reform is patently absurd, as his own DOJ has consistently undermined his sole effort at reform, the federal prison reform law known as the First Step Act. 

Trump's 2020 doesn't have the punch of the 2016 vintage

Trump ran roughshod over well more than a dozen Republican rivals during the 2016 debates, crushing their lifelong ambitions for high office with schoolyard taunts like "Little Marco" and "Low Energy Jeb." 

The thing about heckles is they don't even need to be funny or make any sense to serve their intended purpose. They just need to be disruptive to be effective. 

With a no-nonsense moderator and the ominous spectre of a mute button, Trump couldn't heckle his way to a dishonorable draw in the last 2020 debate. 

The only arrows left in his quiver were well-worn insults and innuendos about Biden's son, Hunter, that are unlikely to move the needle between Trump and Biden, or even jazz up the MAGA base. 

Trump — the would-be authoritarian if he weren't so lazy and unprincipled — wasn't his usual scary self at this debate. 

Instead, he looked every bit like an incumbent president unable to defend his record, and every bit the child-like demagogue who only understands brute force.

To use Trump's own parlance: "Sad!"

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