President Donald Trump trails former Vice President Joe Biden by substantial margins in polls. COVID-19 cases have increased by more than 30 percent in the past two weeks. A second stimulus package is being threatened by his own party, and there are only a dozen days until the election that could make him only the second Republican incumbent in more than a century not to win a second term.
It was in that context that Trump sought to change the conversation at the second and final presidential debate on Thursday night. But while he landed some rhetorical jabs, he also took as much he dished out—even on friendly rhetorical territory like policing and China. And his inability to break out of the Fox News echo chamber that has engulfed his campaign, seemed to prevent him from scoring the type of performance that would substantially shift the trajectory of the race.
The debate between Trump and Biden was set to be waged with both candidates protected by two plexiglass shields, but even after they were removed, Trump seemed to be encased in a plastic bubble—sheltering him not just from the coronavirus, but from political reality. Returning again and again to the latest thread in the vivid tapestry of conspiracy and innuendo about Biden’s surviving son, Trump was, at times, so caught in the lather of ultraconservative media that he seemed to lose sense of what polls show voters actually care about.
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