Last night’s presidential debate was, to quote CNN’s Dana Bash, a shitshow. Donald Trump rant, raved, and constantly interrupted. Joe Biden, despite seeming overwhelmed at points, provided a calm, stark contrast—exactly the kind of performance Trump supporters could turn into a conspiracy.
Within hours of the debate’s conclusion, a zoomed-in video of what looked like a small wire sticking out of Biden’s suit jacket began making Twitter rounds. Before long the hashtag #JoeWired was trending, echoing conspiracies offered earlier in the day on Fox News that Biden would be wearing an earpiece to have someone feed him answers during the debate.
The video was amplified by vocal pro-Trump actor James Woods and spread around MAGA Twitter like wildfire, proof that Biden cheated. It’s the only possible way he couldn’t have been a complete trainwreck.
It wasn’t a wire, though. It was just a wrinkle in Biden’s shirt.
— Holly Figueroa O'Reilly (@AynRandPaulRyan) September 30, 2020
Other Trump supporters pointed out a pen-like object poking out of Biden’s left sleeve—surely a buzzer of some kind meant to keep him alert, right? Or an IV port to pump fresh blood into his decrepit body? Not exactly.
On one hand, it’s almost hard to blame Trump supporters for this kind of conspiratorial thinking. These exact conspiracies—including that Joe Biden would be doped up on stimulants like adderall—were all over Fox News leading up to the debate. And once the actual event started, the only person who looked like an abject disaster was Trump.
Biden was a little low on energy at points and clearly wanted to draw contrast between the president’s reckless aggression and his own collected reserve. It wasn’t terribly hard to do that since Trump was a sputtering maniac from the start. It was just the kind of performance Trump’s supporters probably wanted to see, the alpha bully asshole they voted for—except it didn’t exactly break Biden down. It flustered him a bit, just as it did moderator Chris Wallace, who seemed to have no idea how to handle the president. Still, Biden stayed calm and on message and refused to take Trump’s bait (most of the time, anyway).
So what gives? How was Biden able to turn in even a remotely competent performance when Trump assured his supporters the former VP was a bumbling senile hack? He must’ve cheated, been fed the answers, told exactly what to say. Maybe he was wearing a contact lens he could read his answers from. It’s all lunacy all the time, because in the Trump universe, anything the president promises that doesn’t come true must be some sort of plot against him. Even baseline competence can turn into a full-blown conspiracy.