World Wrestling Entertainment fans have a new sport. It's called presidential debate, and they should be sure to catch the next one.
President Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden delivered no new ideas or insights into policy, but they had fun bludgeoning each other with personal insults. Everyone expected such behavior from Trump, but Biden played along by calling Trump a "racist" who uses "racist dog whistles." Trump is a "clown." Biden said "will you shut up, man," after Trump suggested Biden would lose the far left for trying to sound moderate on socialized health care.
For Biden's fans and foes alike, this debate was a test. They wondered if the 78-year-old candidate, appearing confused routinely while speaking extemporaneously in recent months, could get through 90 minutes without an embarrassing blunder. He did just fine, possibly putting the "mentally fit for office" question to rest for a while.
Biden came across as a man trying to be more Trump than Trump, and Trump came across as Trump. The president tried to cast Biden as stupid after Biden used the word "smart."
"Smart?" Trump quipped. "Don't ever use the word smart with me. There is nothing smart about you, Joe."
Trump berated Biden for graduating near the bottom of his class. He said Biden could not remember which college he attended, a reference to Biden's claim this weekend he got his start the historically Black Delaware State University. The university reports Biden never enrolled at the school, but he has spoken there several times.
And on and on it went, with the American public learning nothing new about either man. It became a contest of who could deliver a better personal jab.
Biden blamed Trump for the pandemic and accused him of wanting to take free health care from millions of Americans. Trump accused Biden of trying to take private health insurance from millions of Americans. Yawn, we've heard it all before.
The closest thing to a WWE Ironclaw Slam maneuver came when the men discussed law and order. Trump enumerated some of his endorsements from law-enforcement organizations, then put Biden in a lurch.
"Name one (law enforcement) group that came out and supported you," Trump demanded. "Go ahead, we have time. Name one. There aren't any."
Looking mildly befuddled, Biden had no answer.
Moderator Chris Wallace moved the awkward moment along quickly, asking Biden if he had called on the Democratic mayor of Portland, Ore., or Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to seek help from the National Guard in quelling violent protests.
"I don't hold public office now," Biden said.
It was a problematic answer, given that Biden had declared "I am the Democratic Party" earlier in the debate. One might expect a man who is one-in-the-same as the party to lead Democratic politicians in solving big problems.
Another almost substantive and telling moment during the made-for-TV brawl fest came when discussing the environment. Biden scored points with a base that supports him by condemning Trump for pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. Biden pledged to rejoin the agreement upon taking office. Another yawn-we've-already-heard-that moment.
Trump fired back by telling Biden the Green New Deal would cripple the country economically, ruining air travel, harming the military and costing the economy some $100 trillion.
"The Green New Deal is not my plan," Biden said in reply.
That somehow led to Trump accusing Biden of calling the military "stupid bastards." Then, as from out of the blue, a Reverse Frakensteiner move had Biden back on the ropes defending the Green New Deal.
"The Green New Deal will pay for itself as we move forward," Biden said, sounding like a man who planned to implement the plan.
Puzzled by that statement, from a candidate who distanced himself from the plan just moments prior, Wallace jumped in to save Joe.
"Do you support the Green New Deal?" Wallace demanded.
"No, I don't support the Green New Deal," Biden said. That was weird because he just finished explaining how the deal would help resolve "global warming" and pay for itself. We're left to wonder whether Biden will or will not give us a Green New Deal.
That was as close to a moment of substantive insight as this debate offered. The rest was an artful display of pre-planned Headlock Drivers and common body slams.
Given the near-complete lack of meaningful and insightful discussion, Biden could have won the night by appearing as the seasoned, respectful, civilized and erudite statesman. He made no such attempt, appearing instead like a man who chose to take on Trump by acting like Trump. Conversely, Trump could have won the debate by appearing like a man who can play with respect for the rules. Instead, he routinely interrupted Wallace. Even worse for his cause, Trump interrupted Biden during answers in which the candidate might otherwise have found himself lost in a lengthy train of thought.
The debate was fun to watch, for those who like manufactured and meaningless conflict. It offered nothing more and should have no role in moving the needle among the small demographic of undecided voters who will determine this election. If they watched, they must be as confused and dismayed about this election as they were the day before. But that's the world of TV wrestling. Win or lose, it's all just a show.