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Lady Liberty dons the mask of shame

Lady Liberty dons the mask of shame
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It’s hard to say that there was a clear winner in the first presidential debate between President Trump and former Vice President Biden. But there was a clear loser: the United States. The debate was a global embarrassment. It was a political low point for the greatest democracy in the world. Lady Liberty should be wearing a mask, not to protect her from COVID-19 but to hide her shame. 

Regardless, Biden came out on top. It was not pretty, and it was not easy. But in spite of the verbal barrage that Trump threw his way, Biden mostly kept his cool.

At one point, Biden did tell Trump to “shut up, man.” But in that moment, you can imagine cheers in many American living rooms, as he stood up to the bully who wouldn’t let him speak.

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Biden won because he did not let Trump get under his skin. Instead, every time Trump went on a tirade, interrupting him, insulting him, lying about him, his record and his family, Biden turned and looked directly into the camera and spoke from the heart to the American people. He did that on the pandemic, on the economy and on race and racism.

Biden won because Trump laid bare yet again that he is allied with white supremacists.  Moderator Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceMulvaney: Earlier Trump controversies were 'policy differences' or 'stylistic,' but 'Wednesday was existential' Clyburn: House has responsibility to impeach Trump over Georgia call Fox's Chris Wallace: Pence 'chose the Constitution' over helping Trump MORE asked Trump if he would denounce white supremacist groups, and Trump said, “name one and I will.” Biden then said, “the Proud Boys.” Trump then said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” Was that a verbal wink to them, asking them to hold on until they are needed? And for what should they be standing by?

Biden won because despite all of Trump’s attempts to throw him off his game, he was calm, undeterred and focused on the important issues that voters are eager to hear about. He beat Trump in part because Trump had for months set such low expectations of Biden, labeling him “sleepy Joe” and calling his mental acuity into question. It backfired.

Biden won because he was the only one who showed empathy for the families who lost loved ones to a pandemic that Trump has been unable and unwilling to stop. Biden also laid out a clear and concise plan to combat the pandemic based on science and expertise, two things Trump loathes.

Trump then accused Biden of wanting to close the country – which was a lie – and attacked him for not campaigning the way Trump has been. Biden slammed Trump for holding rallies that put people in danger. Trump countered that there were no negative effects from those events. Biden should have reminded him that Trump’s friend Herman CainHerman Cain'Trumpification' of the GOP will persist 'SNL' host Dave Chappelle urges Biden voters to be 'humble' winners 18 Trump rallies have led to 30,000 COVID-19 cases: Stanford University study MORE died of COVID-19 after attending a Trump rally.

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The former vice president won because he was the only one who pledged to uphold the sanctity of elections and the foundation that sustains our democracy — the power to vote. Trump’s continued attacks on mail-in voting – even as he votes by mail – are dangerous and detrimental to the country. 

Down in the polls, Trump needed to change the trajectory of the campaign, and he did not do that during this debate. On the contrary, the few undecided voters who watched the debate saw a president unhinged and unable to have a civilized, thoughtful, substantive debate about the chronic issues facing the country.

That may have worked for Trump four years ago when voters were willing to take a chance on a rogue disruptor who they thought would upend the system in their favor. 

But now, at a moment when Americans are losing their lives and livelihoods, they will look for a serious, decent and competent leader who believes in science, in decency, in America’s institutions and in our democracy.

While Trump debated in the gutter, embarrassing himself and the country in the process, Biden acted as a president of the United States should act. 

Maria Cardona is a longtime Democratic strategist and was co-chair of the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee for the party's 2020 convention. She is a principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington-based political consulting agency, and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.