Talking Points

Trump doubles down on the jerk vote

With less the two weeks to go until Election Day and the final face-to-face matchup between Donald Trump and Joe Biden looming in tonight's debate, we've entered the concluding stretch of the presidential contest, when candidates typically begin making what's referred to as their "closing arguments." What does the president want voters to have on their minds as they make their final decisions — about whom to vote for, and whether to vote at all? His campaign and its media cheerleaders evidently want them focused on the Democratic nominee's love for his only surviving son Hunter Biden.

Why in the world would Trump, his campaign, and its media cheerleaders think it would help them to raise suspicions about and even openly mock a father's affection and support for his troubled child? As Franklin Foer writes at The Atlantic, the president is "cruelly lashing Biden, not to explain the relevance of an esoteric scandal that doesn't directly indict the ethics of his opponent, but because he seems to hope that his raising the subject will induce an unbecoming outburst of emotion onstage." Trump, in other words, is a world-class jerk, and he apparently thinks that demonstrating this over and over again on a national stage will help him — because apparently he also thinks that America is filled with people who are jerky enough to be swayed by the president "engaging in a kind of psychological warfare."

Will it work? Almost certainly not. Trump demonstrated appalling levels of jerkitude in the first presidential debate, and his position in the polls has only weakened since then. I don't doubt there are some Americans — especially a certain class of American men — who think the only fitting response to a wayward child is tough love or worse (anger, the infliction of humiliation, the refusal of affection, renunciation). But my hunch is that many more Americans recoil at such cruelty, viewing it as exactly what it is: an expression of heartlessness, and in many cases the source of the child's problems rather than a solution to them.

But Trump obviously disagrees. So expect him to make another play for the jerk vote from the debate stage on Thursday night — and then expect to see his stance in the polls sink even further as we approach the election's finish line.