In a world where all manner of rules often don’t seem to apply anymore, how do you defeat a political opponent who will try to steamroll you through deflection, deceit, and dystopia? The same way you win most conflicts that span the broad spectrum of human activity. You play your game – not theirs – by purposefully shaping the battlefield in a way that increases your odds of winning.
And so it is with the upcoming Presidential debates. When you have mere moments to respond to an opponent whose relentless attack narrative is untethered to any fact, playing your game (and not Donald Trump’s) means being disciplined enough to spend seconds rejecting those untruths and minutes refocusing the audience on his profound vulnerabilities.
It is, of course, impossible to sketch out exactly what that will actually look like in advance. Tone, body language, inflection, and timing are all difficult to pinpoint until they unfold in real time. Biden cannot, for example, know exactly what Trump will say or when in the debate he will say it. But there are certain inevitable attack points that Biden must be prepared to handle crisply, using words and themes that make common sense to a national audience and allow Biden to play his game, and not Trump’s.
Four of those attack points, along with possible responses, are presented below.
Trump Attack Point One – Biden’s four trillion-dollar tax increase will be the largest in US history, killing the economy.
Potential Response By Biden – Four trillion is a lot of money. So is the three trillion we needed to keep the economy afloat in recent months. We should have only needed that three trillion once. Not twice.
There is a difference between investing in the economy and throwing money away. I want to invest. Trump’s ineptitude and refusal to follow science and facts is wasting trillions by forcing us to pay twice for what we should have to pay for once.
Trump Attack Point Two – Joe Biden has been a politician for 50 years and accomplished nothing.
Potential Response By Biden – Being a politician is not exactly a popular profession these days. Neither is being a real estate developer from Manhattan, which is where the President’s values were formed.
I don’t apologize for my public service. I am proud of it. And one of the things it taught me is that you have to listen – even to people with whom you disagree – and take their views into account. Because this is a big country with a lot of people in it that see things differently, and a President is the President for all of them.
What did Donald Trump learn over his decades at the Trump Organization? He was surrounded for many years by people whom he paid. When someone’s livelihood depends on pleasing the boss, it’s not about honesty or even facts. It’s about pleasing the boss. Praising his jokes, even when they’re not funny. His wisdom, even when there is none. His judgment, even when it’s absent. Which is exactly what we have witnessed in this administration. Donald Trump started out with some very capable people. Mattis. McMaster. Kelly. They all left or were fired because they had too much backbone to give the President the false praise he demands. With what result? Now we have a cabinet full of enablers who can’t stop the President from suggesting to the American people that they inject bleach to cure Covid.
Trump Attack Point Three – Joe Biden is corrupt; look at the deal he got for Hunter Biden with Burisma.
Potential Response By Biden – many of our families are complex. Including President Trump’s, as we can see from what his niece and his sister say about him.
Family members don’t control each other. They try to live together, and hopefully love each other. I don’t always approve of everything members of my family do. But I always love them.
Trump Attack Point Four – Obama/Biden killed American jobs with NAFTA. Trump fixed it with the USMCA, which even Nancy Pelosi praised.
Potential Response By Biden – the problem with the USMCA is Trump. He has already repeatedly reneged on the deal and shown our trading partners that the United States cannot be trusted to keep its word. So even if the USMCA could have been a good deal, Trump has hollowed it out.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that Joe Biden has a highly skilled, intelligent team around him that has probably thought through all of this. And yet, Mike Bloomberg also had a skilled team but was unprepared to deal with some very predictable attack points during the one democratic primary debate that Bloomberg participated in.
The strength of these proposed responses to some of Trump’s inevitable attacks is that they are rooted in truth, which is a lot easier to build on then untruth. Reasonable people can, of course, formulate other, better answers. And millions of us (me among them) sincerely hope that Biden’s team is doing exactly that right now. Because rarely in the course of human events has so much hinged on the articulation of words and ideas by so few.