The Final Debate: Hunter Becomes the Hunted

Krystal Ball, Mehdi Hasan, and Ryan Grim break down Thursday night’s presidential debate between Trump and Biden.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images


President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden met for their final debate before the 2020 election on Thursday night. Trump continued his recent attacks on Biden’s son Hunter and his foreign business dealings, while Biden went after Trump’s mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic. Who got the best of the encounter? Rising host Krystal Ball and former Deconstructed host Mehdi Hasan join the show to break down the debate.

Ryan Grim: I’m Ryan Grim. Welcome to Deconstructed.

President Donald J. Trump: This is going to be bigger than four years ago. There’s more enthusiasm. The crowds are bigger.

RG: Donald Trump has spent the 2020 campaign —and arguably his entire presidency — trying to recreate the conditions that brought him his improbable victory 4 years ago. He stills rails against ‘Crooked Hillary’:

DJT: You should lock her up, I’ll tell ya.

RG: And clings to the hope that once again, a laptop and its salacious contents will swing things his way.

DJT: They found the laptop. You know what they call that? The laptop from hell. So a giant trove of emails show Hunter Biden making deals, setting up meetings with his father Joe.

RG: But there’s a problem with that plan. Trump is running against Joe Biden, not Hillary Clinton. Trump’s major advantage against Clinton came down to perceptions of their respective integrity. By the fall of 2016, Trump was even outpacing Clinton on the question of who was more “honest and trustworthy,” a startling data point given Trump’s olympian penchant for dishonesty.

Trump doesn’t have that edge against Biden, and it helps explain why attacks that stuck to Clinton slide off Biden’s back. For his approach to work, Trump really needs a major corruption scandal to erode Biden’s image — deserved or not — as a trustworthy and honest man.

Where Gallup found 33 percent of voters believed Clinton was “honest and trustworthy” in 2016, this year, that number is 52 for Biden. In that gap lies Biden’s decisive electoral edge. In a world where voters aren’t enthusiastic about either candidate, they side with the one they find less objectionable. Right now, that’s Joe Biden.

The Trump campaign’s hope is that two weeks of conversation about Hunter Biden’s influence peddling, ginned up by Rudy Giuliani, can narrow that gap enough to eek out a win. That’s probably a fool’s errand for any number of reasons.

One major problem for Trump is that even with emails and text messages showing Hunter and his business partners clearly intent on leveraging the Biden name for financial gain, nothing definitively sticks to Joe Biden, partly because the sources are suspect. Whatever Hunter and his cronies are saying in those emails is just that — talk. Without evidence of Joe Biden’s actual involvement, it could all be bluster, since they had every incentive to claim to potential business partners to have a tight relationship with Joe.

The mainstream media, over-correcting from its shameful handling of Clinton’s email scandal, hasn’t gone anywhere near this story.

Remember in 2016 how Trump brought a room full of women who accused President Clinton of sexual assault to a debate against Hillary Clinton?

Newscaster: Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathy Shelton, Paula Jones — this sets the stage for what could be a really ugly and contentious debate, tonight.

RG: He played a similar card Thursday night, bringing a former business partner of Hunter’s to the debate. Here’s Tony Bobulinski at a press event:

Tony Bobulinski: I was introduced to Joe Biden by Jim Biden and Hunter Biden.

That night, we discussed Biden’s history, the Biden’s family business plan, with the Chinese.

RG: And here’s Don Jr., trying to explain the scandal to Fox News host Sean Hannity.

Donald Trump, Jr.: There’s literally zero evidence that there’s Russian disinformation. The Director of National Intelligence, and, by the way, more importantly, the FBI said, “I say that because it’s pretty clear that the FBI has done whatever they possibly could to hurt Donald Trump.” So if they’re even coming out and saying this — that doesn’t prevent Adam Schiff, and MS-DNC, from being out there and peddling this thing as if it’s real Russian disinformation! It got corroborated.

Sean Hannity: You’ve got phones, emails.

DT: Joe Biden is corrupted and compromised, and America has to know it. In that hopped up tirade from Trump’s son, you can see another political problem with leaning into Hunter Biden as a campaign strategy. Nobody can really tell what it’s about.

RG: The short version is this: newly published emails and text messages show Hunter Biden and his business partners talking about using Hunter’s last name and his influence with the White House to drum up business, with suggestions that Joe Biden himself would be involved, whether it’s with monied partners in Ukraine or China.

Trump telegraphed that he’d come after Biden over the allegations of corruption during Thursday night’s debate, but interestingly it was Biden who baited Trump into bringing it up. Trump did his best to implicate Joe himself, insinuating that he was the mysterious “Big Man” mentioned in the leaked emails, as Bobulinski has said that he is.

DJT: I don’t make money from China. You do. I don’t make money from Ukraine. You do. I don’t make money from Russia. You made $3.5 million Joe, and your son gave you — they even have a statement that we have to give 10 percent to the “Big Man.” You’re the “Big Man,” I think. I don’t know, maybe you’re not. But you’re the “Big Man” I think. Your son said: “We have to give 10 percent to the Big Man.” Joe. What’s that all about? It’s terrible.

RG: Biden responded by hitting Trump on his own corruption

Vice President Joe Biden: I have released all of my tax returns for 22 years. Go look at them. You have not released a single solitary year of your tax return. What are you hiding? The foreign countries are paying you a lot.

RG: And he accused Trump of peddling Russian disinformation.

JB: There are 50 former National Intelligence folks who said that what he’s accusing me of is a Russian plant. They have said that this — five former heads of the CIA, both parties say what he’s saying is a bunch of garbage.

RG: Yet Biden has not actually claimed that the emails themselves are fake. And seeing Biden rely on Russia as a defense led Trump into a rabbit hole of Russian payments and sweeping charges of corruption, a discussion that was likely impenetrable to most viewers.

By all accounts, Trump is trailing badly in the election. He needed something big to turn it around, and he didn’t get it.

[Musical Interlude.]

RG: We are joined now on Deconstructed by Krystal Ball, who is a co-host of the morning show Rising. Krystal, thanks so much for joining us.

KB: My pleasure. Thank you for having me. The tables have turned, my friend. Normally I get to ask you the questions

RG: They have indeed, I’ve been appearing on Krystal’s show for a very long time.

So what happened tonight? Who won?

KB: Well, I would say overall, it was a much less stressful debate as a viewer to consume certainly then the first one where Trump just decided to be like the most obnoxious person ever.

This time, you could tell, almost visibly, that he was trying really, really, really, really hard to be on his best behavior. And, in fact, I think that affect worked for him a lot better than what we’ve been seeing on the trail of late. Now, that doesn’t mean that he was perfect. He went down these right-wing rabbit holes about different accusations that even me, as a person who follows the stuff pretty closely, couldn’t even follow where exactly he was going. So it wasn’t perfect.

But overall, if he had had this affect, and importantly, if he had leveled some of the critique of Joe Biden about having been in Washington for a long time and never getting anything done, he might be in a better place right now. He also had a more sort of serious tone around Coronavirus.

But ultimately, I thought Biden was, especially for the front half of the debate, very strong, very clear, had a number of lines that landed I thought very effectively. And because he is the leader in the race, I would say that he decisively won this debate — both on, I think I would give it to him on the merits, but also because there was no quote-unquote, game-changing moment and so the status quo overwhelmingly benefits Joe Biden at this point.

RG: Right.

Trump on the stimulus was a bit of a mess, you know, started out talking about how he had gotten it done three times how you got to push Democrats to, you know, give when they don’t want to, when it’s against their interest.

And then, at the very end, he pivots to say that well, you know, the reason I’m against that Hero’s Act that the House passed because it gives a bunch of money to Democratic cities where they just let immigrants run loose, and they’re crime ridden, and terribly run. It seemed like he really blew an opportunity there. What was your take on that exchange?

KB: Well, it gave Biden a wide open opportunity that he took to say: Look, I don’t look at it this way. I don’t look at as blue states and red states. I look at us all as Americans, and we’re all in this together. I’m paraphrasing — but he leveled that target two times.

And this is standard-issue political rhetoric. It’s a little hokey. It’s a little cliché. But when you’re running against someone like Donald Trump it, I think it feels really refreshing to a lot of people to just have this like, standard-issue, American unifying leadership message. So yeah, Trump ends up looking weak on the stimulus because he’s supposed to be the guy that can get it done.

And there was another moment, Ryan, that really stood out to me, which is just a dramatic contrast to me from the way that Trump positioned himself back in 2016. They were getting — both of them — questions about the minimum wage, and Trump put himself on the side of arguing against a federal minimum wage, which is not the position he held in 2016, and not consistent even with things that he said in the past.

Now, of course, we know as a matter of practical fact, he didn’t try to lift the minimum wage while he’s been president so you know where he actually stood on those things. But from just a political positioning, this is such a clear example of where last time when he ran in 2016, there were a series of economic issues where he positioned himself to the left certainly of the Republican Party, and also, in certain cases, to Hillary Clinton and it was very effective. Voters saw him as moderate — he would say things at times like, “Oh, I’m not that Republican on this issue.” And now he has just mainlined all of the Fox News, rhetoric and ideological positioning and it’s been a disaster for him.

RG: He really seemed to think he had a winner with that oil industry back and forth. Oh, look at Joe, he’s gonna destroy the oil industry.

Moderator: We have one final question.

DJT: And that’s maybe the biggest statement in terms of business. That’s the biggest.

Moderator: We have one final question, Mr. President.

DJT: Because basically what he’s saying is he is going to destroy the oil industry.

RG: And he even called out Texas.

DJT: Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that Pennsylvania, Oklahoma.

Moderator: Vice President.

RG: I don’t know why he called out Oklahoma. I think that’s in the bag for him, Pennsylvania. I hope you’re watching.

KB: It’s not. There’s bigger problems.

RG: So, what do you think? How does that exchange play back in Texas or in Pennsylvania?

KB: Well, I don’t think the polling is what a lot of people think it is on these issues, even in states like Texas and Pennsylvania.

I know you and I both covered Mike Siegel, as a progressive running for Congress in Texas, running affirmatively on the Green New Deal; great new ad up from Sunrise Movement of a union worker and organizer talking about organizing union workers around the Green New Deal.

In Pennsylvania, I looked really closely at the polling, and it’s basically — even in the state of Pennsylvania, where fracking is supposedly the thing — the polling is really split. It’s a 50/50 issue on banning fracking — which, we should be clear, is not Biden’s position. I wish it was his position. It’s what of course Trump tries to make his position into.

So even if people believe the charge, I’m not sure how effective it is. And, by the way, they don’t believe the charge. I mean, what we’ve seen is, voters view Joe Biden as moderate. And to the extent that these attacks of like: Oh, he’s gonna be a handmaiden for Bernie and AOC have landed, it’s actually I think, improved his favorability ratings, because people are like, oh, maybe he’s gonna actually do more than we thought he was going to.

Because a lot of the issues that — you know, health care, there’s a whole exchange about like scary, socialized medicine — well, Medicare for All is a 63 percent issue. These are popular issues. And so in an absolutely, I think, unprecedented fashion, Trump’s attacks on Joe Biden, which have largely focused on this socialism angle, have improved Biden’s favorability over the course of this race —

RG: Right.

KB: — which, you know, does not happen for any candidate just by the nature of political campaigns, the rough and tumble, the negative ads, all of that. So it’s kind of an incredible dynamic that Trump’s attacks have been so bad, they have actually helped Joe Biden.

RG: I was surprised to see Joe Biden come out and say that he would put 11 million undocumented immigrants on a pathway to citizenship very quickly. He’s not the kind of person to really make any specific types of promises. And certainly not to make a bold promise when he doesn’t have to. You know, he usually only, you know, commits to something if he’s been backed into a corner by activists.

What did you make of that commitment? Do you think that his advisors are looking at weak numbers among Hispanic voters and giving him the reflexive: Oh, well, then you should do something bold on immigration reform, which isn’t actually, you know, as we know the best way to reach Hispanic voters broadly. But that is often what advisors will tell you. What did you make of that, of that moment and that exchange?

KB: Yeah, that’s actually interesting. And I hadn’t thought of it quite that way. But you’re probably exactly right. One of the great ironies of this campaign that I think a lot of people are quite surprised at is that the reason that Biden is in such a strong position right now is because he’s outperforming with white voters versus 2016, in the group, where he’s underperforming the most, versus 2016, at this point is Latinos.

So I could definitely see that having been a sort of, you know, intentional play and an intentional commitment that his advisors thought he should make to win over that population. As you point out, look, obviously, it’s an incredibly diverse electorate with a wide variety of interests. But if you ask, you know, their issue set, that it looks like everybody else’s: it’s like COVID, and the economy, and jobs, and, yes, immigration is important there as well.

Neither of these candidates has really, you know, super clean hands on the issue of immigration. Trump couldn’t come close to the number — he may have wanted to, but he’s just like not organizationally competent enough to achieve the level of mass deportations that occurred under Obama.

But then under Trump, obviously, you had the institutionalized cruelty that was laid very bare, and I thought that Biden had an extraordinarily strong response on the children who have been orphaned by our government as an intentional act of cruelty and then the best that Trump can say is: well, they’re being very well taken care of. I mean, I don’t think that anyone is going to find that remotely sufficient.

So, you know, overall, I thought the immigration exchange went to Biden, because it’s just an unconscionable act of cruelty, unnecessary cruelty, to separate innocent children, potentially for life from their parents.

RG: Right, especially as you said, Biden is doing extremely well among women in the suburbs. And Trump is clearly sensitive to that. He talks about that a lot. You know, he whines about the fact that he’s not getting more support in the suburbs, despite as he says it, you know, having saved the suburbs, and that’s probably an issue that plays terribly for Trump. You know, a lot of lows, a lot of women in the suburbs that was the kind of last straw when it came to Trump, when they saw him, you know, separating families down at the border.

You know, I thought it was kind of interesting that Joe Biden baited Trump into talking about Hunter. Like, Trump didn’t go there, for the beginning of the debate until Biden brought it up himself, which suggests that Joe Biden really, really sees Trump focusing on Hunter as disadvantageous to Trump. Is that your read on it?

KB: If that’s his calculus, I think he’s absolutely 100 percent correct. Because, look, there’s an alternate universe in which the corruption charges — and some of them are legitimate — about Hunter Biden. I’m not saying that it was illegal, but profiting off of his dad’s name, something that he’s essentially admitted to, there’s an alternate universe in which that stuff actually matters to people and actually lands.

But we live in a universe in which we have mass unemployment, a pandemic, mass death, and a lot of other problems heading down the pike. And so the more that Trump focuses on these Hunter Biden allegations which, at this point, only people who are really steeped in like the right-wing fever swamps, even can follow the thread of, I think the more that he seems like he’s out of touch with Americans at best, and at worst, and this is a mistake and something that Trump walked into himself, at the first debate he went after Hunter on his drug addiction and his problems with substance abuse, and Biden was able to turn that around and actually take the moral high ground there, and say: Look, my son, like many Americans has struggled with addiction.

So yeah, I think he felt like that was actually a fine place for him to go. And of course, once he did bait Trump into going there —I follow some of these allegations, because I do think that some of it has merit — even I couldn’t follow where he was like, some of the money from Russia, $3.5 million from Russia, and all these things just coming at you so fast. You’re just like, What in the world are you even talking about right now?

RG: Well, Krystal, I know you’ve got a show to put on tomorrow morning quite early. It’s Rising. Find it on Hill TV on YouTube. Krystal, thanks so much for joining us tonight.

KB: Thanks, Ryan. And congrats on the podcast.

RG: Oh, thank you for listening.

KB: My pleasure.

[Musical interlude.]

RG: Alright, well, now the hunted has become the hunter. We are joined here by the former host of Deconstructed and the new NBC Peacock host of his own television show, Mehdi Hasan who just finished taping — or airing, I guess I should say — his post-debate show and he is kind enough to join us now with his thoughts on the debate. Mehdi, first of all, how’s it been to have a nightly show?

Mehdi Hasan: It’s exhausting Ryan, and thank you for having me on the show.

It is very weird. Normally, after every debate, I would interview you. And now the roles have indeed reversed. Thank you for having me on Deconstructed. It’s a pleasure to be on such an excellent and brilliant podcast that I’ve heard so much good things about.

It is tiring doing my own show on Peacock every night, Monday to Friday. I don’t know how they do it, all these people have been doing it for years. I am absolutely knackered and we’re only three weeks in.

But it’s a lot of fun. And obviously there’s a lot of news to cover, so having an hour every night is great. We’ve had some great guests. We’re gonna have some more great guests between now and the election. And Ryan, like you, I’m just wondering what’s going to happen after election day, you know? It could be the biggest story of our lives or it might just be a nice orderly transition of power and a Biden landslide. Who knows?

RG: [Laughs.] Well, the question everybody wants to know is how does this affect the Election? How do voters take this? So what was your general read on who this helped more?

MH: I think it helps Joe Biden. I don’t see how it helps Donald Trump. Who are these people, Ryan? These undecided voters who four years in have seen the chaos, the crises, the mismanagement, the children in cages at the border, the incitement of violence, the domestic terrorism, the open racism, the crazy tweets. And then, of course, the impeachment followed by the coronavirus pandemic — 223,000 dead at the time we’re recording the show — who saw all of that, is still undecided? First of all, I’d love to meet these people who are still undecided after witnessing all that. And if they do exist, these truly undecided voters sitting on the fence. What happened tonight that made them say, you know what, after four years and everything we’ve seen, this is the final bit of evidence, this is the data point, we needed to say Donald J. Trump for another four years.

I just — what did he say or do tonight that convinced those [undecided voters]. I’m sure he said lots of stuff that impressed his base, that we in the media obsess over. But his base are 35 to 40 percent of the country. And they might get him over the finish line. But a voter suppression shenanigans, but Electoral College bias. But really, it’s no strategy for a victory.

RG: Right. You really actually put your finger on the difference between 2020 and 2016. At this time in 2016, there were still maybe 15 percent of voters who were undecided.

MH: Yes.

RG: And that enabled the Comey scandal at the very end, you know, to push a lot of people in Trump’s direction.

MH: Yeah. They broke 2-1 for Trump in that final week.

RG: And they could break 2-1 for Trump this time, and if the polls are correct, Biden would still be well ahead. Because the polls are showing something like you know, 4 to 5 percent undecided across the board. And so you asked like, those people who are undecided, how did they respond to this? I wanted to ask you about one of the key exchanges about the kids in cages.

JB: Within 100 days, I’m going to send to the United States Congress, a pathway to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented people. And all of those so-called dreamers, those DACA kids, they’re going to be immediately certified again, to be able to stay in this country and put on a path to citizenship.

Moderator: President Trump, your reaction?

DJT: He had eight years to do what he said he was going to do.

JB: We did.

DJT: And I’ve changed, without having a specific — we get rid of catch and release. We got rid of a lot of horrible things that they put in and that they lived with. But he had eight years he was vice president, he did nothing except build cages to keep children in.

RG: Who do you think got the better of that? And what point was Trump even trying to make there?

MH: I mean, it’s classic Trump. You give him a bit of information, his advisors probably gave him something, he read something on Breitbart, and he wants to use it, but he just doesn’t know how to execute it.

Because you and I know, we’ve discussed it on this show before, that Joe Biden and Barack Obama’s immigration record is not great. It is not an easily defendable record. You know? Yes, you’ve got Dreamers towards the end, reforms towards the end. But you also have over 2 million people deported.

You do have cages that were built by Barack Obama, for kids, to be fair, for unaccompanied children, not for kids taken from their parents, as a matter of policy like under Trump, but still some pretty egregious —

RG: But still abusing children. Yeah.

MH: Indeed. Abuses of power under Barack Obama, abuses of migrant children happened. And a savvier candidate would have weaponized that in a way to really kind of take the sting out of Biden’s day.

The problem is, Donald Trump is sociopathic. And therefore he doesn’t actually give a damn about any kind of kids — brown or white. And therefore, when he’s asked, you know, NBC reporting about 545 children being separated from their parents still, even today, unable to be reunited, he shows no compassion. He says they came into this country with coyotes, they were smuggled in — false. They came with their parents. That’s the whole point. They’re separated from their parents.

He lies. He shows no empathy whatsoever to an audience of tens of millions of Americans. And he has no actual explanation for what went on, what went down, he just says, “There was a photo.” Because he’s obsessed with the fact that there was that gotcha picture that turned out to be Obama.

This is how his brain works, right? He just takes a few small, you know, half-truths, and then runs with them and just obsesses over them, and ends up making them completely untruthful by the time they’ve come out of his mouth. So the immigration debate was just another reminder of how — and it’s not even about race, per se, it’s more about the president who, when it comes to something basic like that has no sense of empathy, no sense of humanity, and just tries to lie his way out of — I’ve always said this.

The reason you know he’s sociopathic is not because of what you know what leaks out about what he believes or says in private, it’s because in public he doesn’t even pretend. Like, I’m sure there are plenty of Republicans who don’t give a damn about brown kids in cages — I’m talking about Republican politicians — but they would respect me enough if they were standing in front of me to pretend to care, because they would know it doesn’t look good.

He doesn’t pretend to care. And that’s what I’ve always found so fascinating and horrifying about this candidate. And I think at this point, surely it can only hurt him. Because again, who watches that and says: Yes! That’s my guy! The guy who got Biden on the cages and avoided the fact that today, in October 2020, there are still 545 children separated from their parents.

RG: Yeah. Another place where that penchant might have heard him was in the discussion about race and racism.

Now, Joe Biden was asked about how “the talk” and he answered empathetically, as Joe Biden is wont to do. The moderator, Kristen Welker, then pushed Trump on a much tougher line.

KW: Mr. President, you’ve described the Black Lives Matter movement as a symbol of hate.

RG: What was your read on what Trump was trying to do with his response there? And did he botch it?

MH: Again, ye, he botched it. Because again, first of all, he lied. He said, Black Lives Matter — their logo, their mantra, their motto, which he heard many years ago, was pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon, referring to the police.

DJT: The first time I ever heard of Black Lives Matter, they were chanting “Pigs in a blanket” — talking about police, pigs, pigs, pigs, talking about our police — pigs in a blanket, fry them like bacon.

I said, that’s a horrible thing. And they were marching down the street.

MH: That was one protest, I believe that happened in 2015, in Minnesota, which was not Black Lives Matter, was not the official group, has never been used by the group on their advertising, their social media, their protest, their placards. So you know, who is he trying to again, who is he trying to impress?

His base will love it. They’ll say, yeah, take the fight to Black Lives Matter and antifa. But who is he actually winning over in this supposed five percent of undecideds that you mentioned that he needs desperately, given the gap, both nationally, and in some of these swing states?

I mean, the guy is right now tying in Texas. In Texas, right? He’s having to go to Arizona to defend himself. That’s not where he should be spending time. You know, when you turn up for debate, if that’s not at the front of your mind, like how do I deal with this, and I’m bleeding votes everywhere, even in safe red states, supposedly, what is the purpose of this kind of rhetoric?

And, you know, I mean, just a simple point. I’m not the first person to say this, but it needs to be said: anyone who has to tell you that they’re the least racist person ever, is probably one of the most racist people ever.

RG: The top issue people say is driving their vote in this election, understandably, is the pandemic. How do you think Biden did in communicating that you can actually handle this in a way that gets us at least on par with the rest of the world?

MH: Look, Biden’s has been pretty consistent on this. He said what his plan is, he’s talked about the importance of testing and tracing. He’s talked about the importance of masking — the basic stuff. I was interviewing two epidemiologists earlier today on my show, and they made the same point. This is not rocket science. We pretty much know how to fight a pandemic.

Barack Obama taunted the President last night in Philadelphia saying, “I left behind a playbook. What happened to that playbook?” Did he use it to prop up a table leg? It disappeared, they never use it. They trashed it.

You know, running against Trump it’s difficult in some ways, the crazy character he is and the way that he sucks oxygen out of the room, and the lies that he tells.

On the other hand, it’s easy in some ways, the bar is so low. We talk about the bar being low for Trump, which is true. It’s also low for his opponent. You know, Joe Biden doesn’t have to come up with some, you know, Nobel Prize-winning plan to defeat the pandemic. He just has to say: I’m not going to do dumb stuff, like take off a mask in public or have super spreader rallies at the White House, or pretend it’s all a hoax, or say that I’m immune, or pretend that children are immune even after your son gets it?

So the bar is actually that quite low. And again with Trump, no empathy, no regret. We saw Eric Bolling interview on Sinclair earlier this week, where Bolling gave him a softball one of his own supporters saying, you know if you could do a do-over what would you do differently? Nothing. Not much. No regrets! And again, tonight, no regrets —the same nonsense about China ban that wasn’t actually a China ban. No empathy for 223,000 people dead.

Joe Biden looked at the camera directly, talked about the missing people at the kitchen table as he did in the first debate. Donald Trump, it’s an important point to make it over nine months of death, I’ve not heard him once ever talk emotively, passionately, sadly, about specific people who have died because he simply can’t,

RG: Right. I’m not sure he can either. You know, if Trump by playing to his base and leaning into all of this bigotry winds up doing even worse than he did in 2016 underperforming his numbers then and losing, what do you think it says about our country and our politics?

MH: I think our politics are broken, Ryan. We’ve discussed this on the show before. I spent many years talking to this Deconstructed audience about how our politics are broken.

I mean, this debate is just the kind of small microcosm of that. You know, look at the way we cover issues: climate change, finally, making an appearance at a debate, hadn’t in many previous debates; the inability to really get stuck in and talk about the failures of the political system, voter suppression, the Electoral College, the Senate is broken in so many ways, probably the most broken institution of all, the United States Senate.

And, of course, any system, Ryan that produces a Donald Trump and allows him to win the presidency — forget, it doesn’t matter what happens next month. You know, this, this is a really depressing point for me, which is, even if Donald Trump is smashed in a landslide, a humiliating landslide — sorry about that

Even if Donald Trump is smashed in a humiliating landslide next month, the fact is, he’s still the 45th President of the United States. You’re never gonna be able to take that away from him. He will always be there in the history books, in the pictures on the wall, you’re just never going to take that.

And I just find that depressing. The fact that he was able to become the 45th President of the United States, I think is something this country will never live down. And that’s a bigger data point for me than anything that happens next month. That’s undoable and I think that’s a tragedy that the United States needs to think and reflect long and hard on. Because there will be other Donald Trump; maybe not as crazy as him, maybe not as ignorant as him. But the Republican Party are well and truly capable of producing another far-right, pseudo-populist, nativist, racist politician.

RG: Well, uplifting as always, Mehdi.

MH: [Laughs.] Uplifting! Look at the polls. If you are of the camp that wants Joe Biden to win, and I would never tell you how to vote or who you should want as your President, but if you are of that camp — he’s still doing very well.

RG: This is true. Mehdi Hasan, thank you so much for joining us here on your podcast Deconstructed.

MH: Ryan. Thanks for having me back on the podcast and you’re doing a great job hosting it. I’m enjoying it.

RG: I appreciate that.

[Musical interlude.]

RG: That was Mehdi Hasan, and that’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Ryan Grim, D.C. Bureau Chief of the Intercept. If you’d like to support our work, go to — your donation, no matter what the amount, makes a real difference.

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