Biden began to flag in the final third of the 90-minute debate. Over and over again, Trump treated him as if he’d been president for eight years and done nothing. “You’re all talk and no action” was the repeated message. Biden could have responded, “I wasn’t in charge then, but you’re the president right now, and the country’s in serious trouble because you’re in way over your head.” Instead, Biden seemed a little stuck, not wanting to distance himself too much from the record of the Obama administration — or especially from Obama himself, who remains quite popular in the Democratic Party, with Black voters, and in the country more generally. So he sort of wanly dismissed the charge with hand gestures and facial expressions.
The Democrat rebounded in the debate’s final question. Asked what each of them would say if they won the election to those who didn’t vote for them, Trump didn’t answer and instead veered off into a mix of bragging about the past four years and promises about the next four. But Biden returned to top form, speaking (as he had earlier in the evening) about how he wouldn’t be the president of blue states or red states but of the whole United States. He’d strive for unity and work to bring the country together.
That’s a solid but not especially inspiring closing argument. It’s certainly better than “Let’s have more four more years of The Trump Show!” And that means it’s more than good enough to power Joe Biden through the final 12 days of a campaign he was winning before Thursday night and is exceedingly likely to keep right on winning.