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Trump's last best tactic: Burn it all down

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Americans Across The Nation Watch First Presidential Debate
People sit and watch a broadcast of the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at The Abbey in West Hollywood, Calif., on Sept. 29, 2020.Mario Tama / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Trailing in the polls with five weeks to go, President Trump didn’t use last night’s debate to disqualify his opponent or outline his vision for the next four years.

Instead, he decided to burn down the debate — by constantly interrupting, not engaging on the substance, offering falsehood after falsehood, and questioning the legitimacy of the upcoming election.

Joe Biden responded with a few insults of his own (“will you shut up, man?” And, “you're the worst president America has ever had”).

Biden didn’t put away the race with his debate performance last night, but Trump certainly bailed him out:

  • by ensuring that the spectacle of last night’s train wreck would be the top takeaway;
  • by not even trying to change this race from a referendum on him into a choice versus Biden;
  • by refusing to denounce white supremacists when he was given the opportunity;
  • and by attempting to delegitimize the entire debate.

(And the president couldn’t have asked for friendlier issue terrain last night, with more time and questions spent on the Supreme Court and law and order/protests than on the coronavirus.)

We get Trump’s goal from last night: He wanted to demoralize the other side, essentially saying: “You’re stuck with me the next four years.”

But is that going to work — with turnout expected to be sky-high, as well as the huge turnout we saw in the 2018 midterms?

They say presidential debates can offer revealing moments about the candidates.

Well, last night was revealing in this respect: Trump is who he is. And he’s never going to change.

So which candidate painted the more accurate picture?

Here’s another way to look at last night’s debate:

The portrait of Trump that Biden and Democrats were trying to paint is that the president is a bully, a fraud and has no plan — either when it comes to the coronavirus or the next four years.

What did the public see last night?

And the portrait of Biden that Trump and Republicans were trying to paint is that Biden is captive to the Democratic left and that he’s senile.

What did the public see last night?

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

7,227,598: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 44,412 more than yesterday morning.)

207,232: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 937 more than yesterday morning.)

103.16 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

48 percent to 41 percent: The share of debate watchers who said that Biden won last night’s debate versus those who thought Trump won, per a CBS snap poll.

More than 9 million: The number of mail ballots that had been requested through Monday in Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maine and Iowa.

52 percent: The share of those 9 million ballots that were requested by Democrats. (Just 28 percent were requested by Republicans; the rest were unaffiliated.)

28,000: The number of workers being laid off by Disney due to strain from Covid limitations.

On the campaign trail today

Joe and Jill Biden embark on a train tour, departing in Cleveland, then visiting Pittsburgh, Latrobe, Pa., and Johnstown, Pa. Donald Trump holds a rally in Duluth, Minn., at 9:00 p.m. ET.

You spin me right round, baby, right round

After the debate came to an end, Team Trump quickly tried to spin the president’s words to far-right extremist group, Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by,” NBC’s Hallie Jackson, Monica Alba and Shannon Pettypiece report:

“Allies are trying to create confusion: Donald Trump Jr. appeared on CBS and said the president said ‘stand down.’ When corrected, Don Jr. said he didn’t know if it was a ‘misspeak’ and said ‘he’s talking about having them stand down.’ Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh also tried to tell us it was “stand down,” and in the president’s defense claimed that he just last week named the KKK a terror organization (he did not — the president, at an event focused on Black economic empowerment, pledged to prosecute the KKK as a terror org if he’s reelected.)”

And from Team Biden, deputy campaign director and communications director Kate Bedingfield committed that Biden will continue to show up to the debates: “Yes, we are going to the debate. You know, in terms of discuss ongoing discussions with the commission about, you know, formats and rules in those conversations are always ongoing that's a continuing process as we move through these debates. So I would imagine there will be some additional conversations but yes, we are, we are committing to attending the debates.”

Ad Watch from Liz Brown-Kaiser

Today’s spotlight is a new ad push across five battleground states from the main Super PAC backing President Trump's re-election.

America First Action announced Tuesday that it’s spending $40 million on TV, digital, and mail advertisements between this week and Election Day in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. (Note where they’re not running: Michigan and Minnesota, where Trump travels today.)

The first spot out Wednesday is airing in the Philadelphia market, and warns that Joe Biden will raise taxes on day one of his presidency and shut the country down again to combat Covid-19.

“Joe Biden. The times are tough. The man is too weak,” the narrator says.

The Super PAC’s coming ads will also focus on the economy and argue that Biden would hurt America’s comeback as president.

The Lid: “LOL nothing matters”? Or something else?

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at the voters who are up for grabs and asked whether anything about the debates could move them.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The Washington Post’s debate lede: “The presidential campaign devolved into chaos and acrimony here Tuesday night as President Trump incessantly interrupted and insulted Democratic nominee Joe Biden while the two sparred over the economy, the coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court and race relations in their first debate.”

The New York Times’ lede: “The first presidential debate between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. unraveled into an ugly melee Tuesday, as Mr. Trump hectored and interrupted Mr. Biden nearly every time he spoke and the former vice president denounced the president as a “clown” and told him to “shut up.”

The AP’s lede: “The first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden deteriorated into bitter taunts and near chaos Tuesday night as Trump repeatedly interrupted his opponent with angry — and personal — jabs that sometimes overshadowed the sharply different visions each man has for a nation facing historic crises.”

What was true and what was false in the debate? Our fact check team has you covered.

Sahil Kapur offers four takeaways from the chaotic night.

Members of the Proud Boys are thrilled with Trump’s comments about and to them during the debate.

Biden says he’ll participate in the next two debates, but many Democrats say he should demand changes to the rules.

NBC will host a town hall with Joe Biden in Miami on Monday.

New documents show that President Trump offered Amy Coney Barrett the Supreme Court slot the same day he met with her.

Barrett is not committing to recusing herself from 2020 election cases.