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'Fatigue is a factor': Political exhaustion weighs on voters in rural Wisconsin – CNN

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That fatigue with politics, aimed primarily at President Donald Trump but also Democrats in Washington and the overall tone of discourse in America, is coursing through the minds of many voters in one of the most politically volatile parts of this swing state, where counties that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 swung substantially to Trump in 2016 before swinging back to Democrats and Gov. Tony Evers in 2018.
Wisconsin played a central role in Trump’s victory in 2016, with rural and working class voters leading the rejection of Democrats throughout the Upper Midwest. Four years later, however, the state remains a key battleground, but one where Trump is trailing in the most recent polls.
The hyper-partisanship that has consumed the rest of the nation has not missed the counties that lie along the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers.
But exhaustion is one of the few things that crosses those hardened party lines. Even people who voted for Trump four years ago and top Republican operatives in the area told CNN that the chaos surrounding the President has left voters beleaguered weeks out from the 2020 election.
“Fatigue is a factor,” said Wayde Lawler, the chair of the Vernon County Democratic Party.
The first presidential debate, which was dominated by Trump angrily yelling and interrupting and Democratic nominee Joe Biden firing back by calling Trump a “clown,” did nothing but cement those feelings.
Looking to seize on this weariness, Lawler and the county party paid to have a large billboard put up between the towns of Viroqua and Westby that simply reads “Had Enough” in block letters before directing people to “Vote Blue” in November. The sign, flanked by a local fishing and hunting club, a John Deere dealer and fields of horses, is aimed at fed-up voters like Sharon Seeley.
The 79-year-old resident of nearby Grant County voted for Trump in 2016 but regrets it now, turned off by “his lies.”
“It just makes you tired,” Seeley said of Trump the day after the first debate. “He’s like a kid in a candy store. If he can’t have a piece, he breaks everything in the store.”
Lawler said that sense of “exhaustion” is something he hears regularly from “folks that consider themselves pretty middle of the road,” especially those who somewhat reluctantly voted for Trump four years ago because they harbored deep-seated animosity for Hillary Clinton.
“Most people don’t want the ugliness of the political world to be front and center in their news every day and in their conversations and in their drive to work,” he said. “A lot of people are just fed up with the constant barrage of whatever the scandal of the day is.”

‘The dipstick of the country’

The Southwest corner of Wisconsin that borders that state’s eponymous river is known as the Driftless Area, because its rolling hills avoided the grinding flattening that receding glaciers imposed on much of the Midwest at the end of the last Ice Age. The area has long, according to local candidates, been home to high concentrations of ticket splitters, people who may vote for Democrats atop the ticket, but back Republicans in local races.
The area was also central to Trump winning Wisconsin four years ago, helping the Republican run up sizable margins in rural counties that had previously backed Democrats. The President remains popular with some voters in the area, where massive Trump signs are as common in fields here as Holstein cows.
Still, there are clear marks of Biden support, too. A number of Biden supporters have hand-painted campaign signs and placed many of them on the two-lane throughways that run alongside the Wisconsin River.
And despite its remoteness, local voters feel that issues impacting metropolitan areas still play out here.
“Richland Center is the dipstick of the country,” Daniel Miller, the owner of Ocooch Books & Libations, said about the seat of Richland County. “Anything that is going on anywhere else is going on here in some ratio that is matching the country.”
Because of that swingy nature, both Republicans and Democrats have committed more focus on the Driftless Area.
Trump, before he tested positive for Covid-19, was scheduled to headline an event in nearby La Crosse. Vice President Mike Pence has surprised Republicans in the state with how frequently he has targeted the western half of Wisconsin. And the Trump campaign says they have “more staff than ever before” in the area, including six field offices.
“The key for Republicans is keeping the focus a lot more on kitchen table issues, focused on taxes and health care and education and what we think we can do differently,” said Andrew Hitt, the chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party, who grew up in Richland Center.
But Hitt admits that the area is up for grabs, in part, because of people are “exhausted” by politics.
“If Southwest Wisconsin looks more like an Obama map, it’s going to be hard for the President to win,” said Hitt. “If it looks like a Trump 2016 map and everything else kind of stays about where it is, then that that means the President is probably going to win (the state) again.”
For Ben Wikler, chair of Wisconsin Democrats, it is that exhaustion that is central to winning back these counties.
Exhaustion “tends to be the recipe for change elections,” said Wikler. “When people don’t like what they are getting, that is when they will vote for something else.”
Wikler, in a nod to that Vernon County billboard, labeled people like this the “had enough” voter — “people who don’t want politics to dominate their every waking moment,” he said.
And although people like Bill Biefer, chair of the Grant County Republican Party, said excitement for the President remains high among his supporters, he admitted there are clear signs that some voters are just worn out with politics.
“It is exhausting to put up with all the complete bickering that is going on for four years,” said Biefer. “This constant getting nothing done. I don’t think it is helping any party.”

‘It makes you feel like doomsday is coming’

Because of the coronavirus, Shaun Murphy-Lopez is one of the only Democrats in Wisconsin knocking on doors.
He must, he says, to even have a chance of winning a state assembly seat in a district that runs from Wisconsin’s border with Illinois and Iowa up through Richland County.
But what he has learned is that the reason Biden — and by extension, he — has any chance of winning in November is that a sense of exhaustion with Washington that began during Barack Obama’s presidency has only rose under Trump and became overwhelming in the wake of the first presidential debate.
“It makes you feel like doomsday is coming,” Murphy-Lopez said of the tenor Trump has struck in recent weeks. “And the top thing I hear from independents or people who are on the fence is they want politicians who are going to work for the people, not the party. They are tired of elected officials going after each other, they are tired of people making each other look bad.”
That knowledge has come through hard work. Murphy-Lopez has knocked on over 4,400 doors to date, many of which in rural Wisconsin are miles apart. In that process, the Democrat says he has heard the overarching belief that neither national Republicans nor Democrats have given much care to rural areas.
“If we walked up and down this main street right now, there are multiple vacancies,” he said, pointing down Wisconsin Avenue from the back porch of Timber Lane Coffee in Boscobel. “You go to some of the smaller villages and they’re almost dead. Their business districts are gone.”
Martin Adams, a 50-year old machinist in Grant County and one of those voters who met Murphy-Lopez at his door, illustrates how being fed up with politics is particularly hurting Trump in the area.
Adams voted third party in 2016 because he felt like there was little difference between the two candidates, but this time around, because of his opposition to Trump, he is going to vote for Biden despite “disliking everything about him.”
“I really don’t like the two of them,” Adams said of Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris. But Trump, Adams said, “is a liar. He has no care outside of his own image. He doesn’t care about any of the people. His rhetoric is reprehensible. He is an embarrassment.”
Kriss Marion, a small farmer and bed and breakfast owner in the district next door, said the reason for the political shifts is continual farm bankruptcies in the area.
“There is a logjam in Washington, there is a logjam in Wisconsin and people feel quite hopeless,” said the Democrat running to represent parts of Richland and Sauk counties in the state assembly. “And you layer that on top of the hopelessness that people have about the farm economy and the hollowness that people feel about small towns, that is a lot of exhaustion.”
Wisconsin, according to local reports and data from the US court system, led the country in farm bankruptcies in 2019, with the number of farms closing jumping by 20%.
Jerry Volenec exemplifies this phenomenon.
The dairy farmer from Grant County voted for Trump in 2016 because he “had some issues with the Obama administration” and thought “perhaps having a businessman in the White House, not a politician, might be beneficial for me.”
But Volenec quickly soured on Trump, especially when the President’s focus on re-negotiating trade deals shook up international trade markets and forced him, for the first time in his career, to sell less milk than previous years.
“I am tired of it and I am not going to sit back and let it happen anymore,” Volenec said of the downturn in rural America and the farming that is shifting to larger and larger corporate farms. “A lot of these things, were set into motion prior to Trump, but he has had a steroid effect on things.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Shaun Murphy-Lopez and Wayde Lawler’s names.

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On politics and the principle of nurturing – MinnPost

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Who is my neighbor? Over the course of life’s wanderings my answer to this question has gone through expansion and contraction cycles, and as I stumble into middle age over the cracks and potholes I recognize I’ve treated the question at times as rhetorical and metaphorical, but increasingly in recent years, literal. Especially this year, and especially at this time of year as I make decisions about the votes I will cast for elected offices in November.

Tim Moore

The passionate pursuit of a single issue can drive a vote. As I write this, I’ve just read the fine commentary on these pages by Erik Johnson, who discourages us from hinging our decisions on single issues (“At election time, you have a voice — and it is your obligation to use it,” Oct. 19). I have never been a single-issue voter, but in these complex times parsimony is an elixir. The issue I claim is the principle of nurturing (the breadth of which may get me a pass from detractors of single-issue voting). Oxford Languages defines nurturing as “to care for and encourage the growth and development of.” As a mental health professional, I’ve become aware of the ubiquity of the need for nurturing (all of us, not just those who seek professional support), and as a Lutheran I struggle with the limitations on the bandwidth I have for contributing to the nurturing needed where my family lives in the urban core and across the state where my kids will grow up alongside yours.

A natural tendency

Humans have a natural tendency to nurture — with our families, pets, gardens, clubs, teams, businesses — reflecting the importance of people, where we belong, and what we are responsible for. We can recognize nurturing in the actions of people who inspire us. We read about nurturing in the newspaper and other media every day in wide-ranging stories of long-sustained efforts in every sector of life from global politics to sports to race relations, in obituaries telling us how the world is a better place because of ideas, values, and visions nurtured. Nurturing is not something the political right or the left can claim — thankfully it is a nonpartisan path to tread.

In his 2015 book “The Nurture Effect,” Anthony Biglan argues for nurturing as the core of solutions to challenges faced by individual people, families, schools, and our larger society (among other roles in his influential career in social/behavioral science, Biglan directed the research consortium of the Promise Neighborhoods initiative under the Obama administration). He describes nurturing as a scalable practice supported by decades of research across sectors of society that drives improvements to the human condition at the individual and systems levels. Biglan traces the origin of his push for nurturing to his work on a 2009 Institute of Medicine report on preventing social and health problems: “I began to see common threads that ran through all successful programs, policies, and practices … all of them make people’s environments more nurturing.”

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Neighbors = Minnesotans

Back to the question “who is my neighbor,” I have settled on the answer of “everyone in Minnesota.” Business and pleasure have taken me all over this state to experience the richness of its people, places, and pursuits. But rather than a simple balm for my struggling spirit and a road map for action, this answer adds complexity. The decisions I make at the ballot box this November cannot possibly nurture all my neighbors in the ways they would define it. It is not a zero-sum calculation, but what nurtures the (mostly white) neighbors on my block may not nurture my BIPOC neighbors. Decisions that nurture my urban hometown or my beloved wild lands may not nurture the farmers who grow my food or the mining families who produce resources for our state and far beyond. I try to listen and learn but I don’t walk in the shoes of others. I embrace the tension in having no simple answers and in rejecting the dichotomous choices of our politics.

There will be winners in this election who will earn the responsibility of nurturing their entire constituencies, and must be held to account in that regard. I cling to an optimism that I am not alone in the hope that our civil discourse can embrace the difficult shades of gray it has shied away from in this age of the echo chamber, and collectively our tendencies as nurturers will pave smoother roads for all our neighbors.

Tim Moore is a psychologist who lives in St. Paul with his wife and three children.

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Boris Johnson used to be the Teflon man of British politics, brushing off scandals, gaffes and mistakes. Not any more – CNN

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Now Johnson’s plans appear ruined. He’d wanted to use his personal enthusiasm for Brexit to instil a fresh sense of optimism that the UK’s future was brighter outside the European Union. Free from the Brussels bureaucracy, Johnson’s government vowed to address the UK’s socio-economic imbalance that in some sense led to Brexit by “leveling up” deprived areas. He would also seek to strengthen the bond between the four nations of the UK, which had been stretched to near-breaking point amid the bitterness following the 2016 referendum. In short, the man who led the campaign that caused so much division was on a charm offensive to heal the country.
However, 10 months on, his government is short on resources and losing good will. Johnson’s opponents point to numerous errors made early in the pandemic over testing and confusing messaging over lockdowns, the highest death count in Europe and worst recession of any major economy as evidence of his failures. Worse, members of his own party fear that his lack of attention to detail and instinct for combative politics is causing a shift in the PM’s public perception: From affable optimist to incompetent bully who is hopelessly out of his depth. And they worry what long-term damage this might do both to Johnson’s personal mission and the brand of the Conservative party writ large.
One former Conservative cabinet minister and colleague of Johnson, who declined to be named, agreed with this analysis. “To deal with a crisis like this, you need public confidence and you need different bits of the state working together as effectively as possible,” the politician said. “Instead, they have managed to enrage the leadership in Scotland and Wales while picking largely pointless fights with mayors of major cities where Conservatives historically don’t do well. It’s a very strange way of going about uniting the country.”
Over the past week, Johnson has been in a protracted and public spat with the Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. Johnson wanted the city to enter the UK’s highest tier of Covid restrictions. Burnham didn’t want this to happen without more financial support from the central government. The whole thing ended in a complete mess, as Johnson’s government didn’t make clear after talks collapsed that the money deemed insufficient by Burnham was still on the table. This led to a televised press conference in which Burnham supposedly found out live on air that the government had withdrawn their offer of £60 million ($78 million) for the city, instead only offering £22 million.
The government claims the whole thing was a set up by Burnham and in fact the minister responsible had talked with him before the press conference.
A government minister told CNN that there is “zero evidence that the PM picked a fight with Burnham,” adding that a central government “naturally has to balance economic and public health issues while local politicians have a much narrower focus,” implying Burnham was playing politics with Johnson.
However, worryingly for Johnson, his personal approval ratings and trust in his government have plummeted sufficiently since the crisis that the truth doesn’t entirely matter.
“When you look at Boris’s personal brand you see dramatic drop-offs in people who think he is likeable and trustworthy since the start of the pandemic. He now lags behind Keir Starmer (leader of the opposition Labour party) on almost all of those metrics,” says Chris Curtis, Political Research Manager at pollster YouGov.
This dip in trust is particularly toxic for Johnson when you combine it with the reputation Conservatives have in parts of the country that historically vote Labour and Johnson was able to pick up seats in last December’s election — the so-called Red Wall.
This reputation was not helped when Johnson found himself in round two of a fight with popular Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford over providing meals for the poorest children during the Christmas holidays this year. On Wednesday night, Johnson directed his party to vote against the proposal.
“People will remember in six or 12 months that the government didn’t seem to care if children went hungry over Christmas during an economic crisis. It costs relatively little to fund compared to other government spending this year,” says Lauren McEvatt, former special adviser to a previous Conservative administration. “It feeds into a narrative which still exists that Conservatives ultimately don’t care as much about poor people.”
What’s perplexed many observers over the Rashford affair is that Johnson had to U-turn earlier this year on exactly the same matter for summer holidays. “This government is like that GIF where Sideshow Bob keeps stepping on the same rakes and whacking himself in the face,” says Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester.
All of which only goes to reopen the question of government competence. “From the start, this government set out to hyper-centralize everything from a small team in Downing Street in order to have a tight grip on the Johnson project,” says a senior Conservative lawmaker. “That means a small group of people are making decisions in areas they might not be experts. That’s hard enough at the best of times, but during a crisis which affects the whole country and is constantly changing, it’s virtually impossible.”
The lawmaker goes on to explain that he thinks they “rely too much on focus groups” in order to appeal to public opinion. “The trouble is, focus groups don’t have much foresight. Something might be very popular one day but six months down the line look like a massive mistake. Normal practice in government is to find the right policy and sell it to the public, not the other way around.”
Numerous current and former Downing Street insiders told CNN that while it was true this government did run a lot of focus groups and deemed them to be very important, opinion was divided on their precise influence over policy making. Some said that decisions were made on the basis of focus groups; some said they helped shape how the government would sell policy to the public; some claimed it had led to major policy U-turns, including over Rashford’s summer campaign. A government official denied this claim.
Boris Johnson visits the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust  on July 13, 2020 in London.
Whatever the truth, it is hard to deny that Johnson’s credibility has taken a significant hit this year. Many point to a scandal surrounding his most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, as the worst moment of the year. Cummings, having displayed symptoms for Covid, decided to drive hundreds of miles from his home in London when government advice clearly stated that he should self-isolate. Cummings claimed that he did so to provide childcare for his young son.
“They could have killed that story in 48 hours if they said he was desperately worried about his baby and now realizes it was wrong,” says the former cabinet minister. Instead, Cummings gave a bizarre press conference where he defended not only his initial trip, but a further outing in his car which he claimed to merely be testing his eyesight. “The refusal to show any kind of contrition led to a big change of mood. That episode symbolizes what has been wrong about the approach,” the former minister adds.
Whether that’s fair or not, it’s certainly possible to argue the case that the Cummings scandal had three key ingredients: Cock-up; lack of apology; aggressive response. It is also possible to superimpose this playbook onto both the responses to Burnham and Rashford. In the case of the latter, Johnson was not helped by members of his own party implying that some poor parents are feckless and not interested in feeding their children and that children have always gone hungry anyway.
All of this leaves Johnson vulnerable to those who want to paint him as a mean-spirited bully running a shambolic government. “Fairly or unfairly, it does play to the stereotype of Conservatives as not interested in the poor and not interested in the north. This, unfortunately, does really damage his agenda for leveling up, cementing the red wall and defending the union,” says the former minister.
It’s worth pointing out that as things stand, Johnson’s party is still ahead in the polls. A government minister puts this down to the fact that despite all the headlines, Johnson’s real actions present an alternative narrative that voters understand. “If you move away from Covid, all the big announcements we have made are focused on investments in skills, and we didn’t go for austerity 2.0 despite massive pressure. All of these things suggest that leveling up is still the PM’s top priority,” the minister said.
However, despite those polls, Johnson only won his majority last December and that lead has been slipping. And as the crisis continues, many of his previous supporters are increasingly skeptical that Boris Johnson was ever really the man to unite a country divided by political chaos for which he was largely responsible.

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Who Won the Debate? Political Observers Weigh In – The New York Times

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Like other presidents who have slipped in the polls after a widely panned first debate, President Trump was the beneficiary of low expectations on Thursday night in the final debate before the election, a more civil and lower-decibel affair than the last.

But his effort to demonstrate greater discipline was most likely too little, too late to deliver the jolt to the race that he needs to lift his chances for re-election, some of the nation’s top political strategists and other observers said.

Where some saw hope for Mr. Trump, others saw the same candidate facing the same challenging campaign dynamics.

“Nothing changed,” Matthew Dowd, a former top aide to President George W. Bush, said on ABC News. “He wasn’t a bull in a china shop. That doesn’t mean he won the debate.”

Though Mr. Trump needed some kind of breakthrough to overcome former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s lead in the polls, Mr. Dowd said later that he did not see that happen during the course of the 90-minute encounter. “Biden had a lead going in and has a lead leaving,” he wrote on Twitter.

The size of Mr. Biden’s lead, double digits in some national polls, is so large that any good Mr. Trump did to his campaign was probably limited by Mr. Biden’s even performance. “Biden did not do a face plant,” said Charlie Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “That is all he needed to do.”

Ahead of the debate, many analysts saw parallels between Mr. Trump’s underdog position and the high stakes President Barack Obama faced before his second debate in 2012, when he delivered sharper and more forceful rebuttals to Mitt Romney than he had before, and soon rebounded in the polls.

Certainly, many of Mr. Trump’s defenders sought to portray his performance that way on Thursday. Many claimed that he had triumphed over Mr. Biden, seizing on the former vice president’s statement about phasing out fossil fuel use as a devastating misstep.

Some praised the president merely for not interrupting. “Trump’s self-control is very impressive right now,” said Allie Beth Stuckey, a conservative writer and podcast host.

And others claimed that Mr. Biden had reinforced stereotypes of him as a career politician who inspires little passion.

David Brody, the chief political analyst for the Christian Broadcasting Network, said on Twitter that the president “has effectively hammered home a very simple theme tonight and that is this: ‘what have you done Joe during all your time in DC? You’re all talk no action.’”

Mr. Brody concluded, “That message will have traction.”

But it was not certain that the evening would have much effect on a race in which few undecided voters remain. Nor was it clear that the debate did anything other than reaffirm what most people already felt about both men.

Here is what observers from across the political spectrum said.

Mr. Trump’s supporters believed they had the moment that every campaign dreams of in a debate: those 20 or so seconds when your opponent makes a gaffe that can be spliced into an attack ad that can run repeatedly over the final stretch of the race.

It was not clear, however, that this is what Mr. Trump had after Mr. Biden challenged the president to produce video proving that he had said he would ban fracking, and then expressed support for phasing out fossil fuels and ending federal subsidies for oil companies.

“I’m not sure much is going to change or can at this point in the race, in this year, but if anything were to, that oil line is the one that will haunt him,” said Mary Katharine Ham, a conservative analyst.

Republicans quickly began circulating one such video showing Mr. Biden describing what he would do about fracking, saying, “We would make sure it’s eliminated.” The former vice president has since said repeatedly he does not support ending the practice, a major source of jobs.

“Biden thinks PA is stupid,” said Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union.

Republican strategists also saw something to like in Mr. Trump’s response on how he plans to handle the growing number of coronavirus cases across the country, revealing the deep divide between many conservative supporters of the president, who want a generally more hands-off approach from the government, and most other Americans, who believe in taking steps such as mandating mask-wearing in public.

Ari Fleischer, a former aide to Mr. Bush, said many Americans would find something more hopeful in the president’s message, versus what he saw as the pessimism of Mr. Biden’s words. “Trump is right about learning to live with the virus,” Mr. Fleischer said. “We can and must fight the virus, and live our lives. I suspect Trump’s message about living with it beats Biden’s message about dying with it.”

Brad Todd, a Republican strategist, echoed that point, saying that many Americans are wary of stringent lockdowns. “Biden talks bailouts and shutdowns – Trump talks re-opening. That’s a good contrast for the President and he should hold this fight here,” Mr. Todd said.

But Tony Fratto, who also worked for the Bush administration, raised what some strategists have said is Mr. Trump’s Achilles’ heel: his drop in support among seniors. “Continuing to press the fact that young people are less likely to die will not help to close that gap with old people,” Mr. Fratto said.

Mr. Biden’s defenders appeared to anticipate that Mr. Trump would be graded on a curve. But they tried to remind people that any perceptions of a vast improvement were relative.

“I’ve watched more Trump debates than any human,” Ron Klain, an aide to Mr. Biden who helped him prepare for the debates, said less than an hour into the event on Thursday. “The ‘new’ Trump never lasts more than 40 minutes.”

And Tim Miller, a Republican strategist who is supporting Mr. Biden, said the president’s ability to demonstrate self-control should not be confused with good policy. Describing the president’s response to being challenged by Mr. Biden on his handling of the coronavirus, Mr. Miller asked: “Was the president’s task there to convince Americans he has a plan to deal with this pandemic or to convince Americans that he can behave like a good boy for 4 minutes? Because it was a whiff on the first one.”

One of the biggest unknowns going into the debate was how Mr. Trump might try to unnerve Mr. Biden by raising unsubstantiated claims about the business pursuits of his son Hunter in China and elsewhere.

But when Mr. Trump raised the issue, he found himself on the defensive when Mr. Biden turned the question back around, asking about Mr. Trump’s taxes and noting a recent New York Times report that brought to light a previously undisclosed Chinese bank account belonging to the president. Even some conservatives conceded that Mr. Biden had played his hand well when Mr. Trump had to spend time explaining why he had not released his tax returns.

“Biden had a shrewd strategy on Hunter allegations to get it on Trump’s taxes and bank account, and it worked,” said Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review.

Ezra Klein, the editor at large of Vox, said that Mr. Trump appeared thrown off by Mr. Biden’s response. “It is amazing how easy it is to distract Trump from the one attack he clearly prepared for tonight by needling him on his tax returns and finances,” he said. “It’d be funny except for that same total absence of focus defines his presidency.”

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