Dan Gainor: Trump managed to drive debate despite Welker's interruptions

After the final presidential debate, neither side can point to their opponent doing badly

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Thursday night in Nashville, the Commission on Presidential Debates did what the news media have been trying to do for four years — silence President Donald Trump. That lasted for only two minutes at a clip.

After that, moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News spent all night interrupting the president. But despite that, a debate did happen and it didn’t go anywhere near as she planned.

Trump forced discussion of the economy, scandal allegations against Biden and Biden’s 1994 crime bill that harmed tens of thousands of African-American young men.

And Trump did it with a kinder, gentler tone. In fact, it was Biden who came across as angrier — probably not the last look he wanted to give voters who seldom see him.

Trump also hammered a point that should resonate with Americans worn down by the virus. “We’re not going to shut down and we have to open our schools,” argued the president. That ran counter to the Biden strategy that called for “more social distancing” and limits on what could open.


Welker clearly adapted her planned questions to take into account both breaking news and the criticism that the original topics left out two huge areas of Trump’s success — foreign policy and economy.

She also avoided asking about packing the Supreme Court even though Biden had just announced a plan to do even more than that earlier in the day. That plan included a vow to “go well beyond packing."

The resulting debate focused heavily on energy and former Vic President Joe Biden’s bogus claims he doesn’t plan to ban fracking. Fossil fuels, which dominate several states including battleground Pennsylvania, are Biden’s kryptonite and he once more lied about the issue.

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Biden declared: “I have never said I oppose fracking” and dared Trump to “put it on your website.” Trump challenged him and even Welker responded with a follow-up question: “Would you rule out banning fracking?

“I do rule out banning fracking,” he replied. Then he oddly continued with a call to have “complete zero emissions by 2025.” That timing would conveniently land at the end of a new administration.

The Trump War Room Twitter account immediately responded with a clip of that Q&A and then added several clips of Biden opposed to fracking.

Former Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry jumped in on Twitter, saying, “Hey Texas and Pennsylvania, @JoeBiden just admitted he would transition from the oil industry, effectively killing an estimated 11 million jobs.”

Trump also forced a discussion of The New York Post allegations against Biden and his son Hunter. It wasn’t enough, but it was more than Welker probably wanted. And had to be a surprise to millions of Americans who suffered as both news media and social media censored the issue.

Trump scored with one of his more memorable lines of the night: “They're are like a vacuum cleaner," said Trump about the Bidens. "They're sucking up money."


Still, Welker’s liberal bent influenced both the questions and how she phrased them. “You've described the Black Lives Matter movement as a symbol of hate,” she said to Trump. She then asked him, “What do you say to Americans who say that kind of language from a president is contributing to a climate of hate and racial strife?”

But that wasn’t how she asked Biden the question. And it had to be Trump who brought up the 1994 crime bill Biden now apologizes for.

Welker did the same thing with the Supreme Court, twisting the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett into a battle over keeping the Affordable Care Act with the scare claim, “20 million Americans could lose their health insurance almost overnight.”

Conservative Ben Shapiro slammed the argument. “Welker's framing on this ACB question is ridiculous. Her appointment is not about overturning Obamacare.”

Welker has long been a predictable partisan Democrat. She had registered with the party back in 2012 and comes from a family with strong Democratic ties.

She had tipped off the Clinton campaign to post-debate questions back in 2016. In 2019, she confronted Trump and asked, “Have you or are you now — have you ever worked for Russia? Yes or no?”

Pre-debate pressure boxed her in enough that Trump didn’t spend all night having to fight with the moderator. Still, conservative columnist David Limbaugh assessed the debate this way: “Trump is winning this, despite, once again, deck stacked against him.”


Neither side can point to their opponent doing badly. Trump did get to enjoy a victory lap after repeatedly asking Biden "Why didn't you do that four years ago?” “You know, Joe, I ran because of you, I ran because of Barack Obama." 

On Thursday night, he didn't just run because of Joe, he ran through him.