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Trump built a career on magic words. The spell broke at the debate.

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His obsession with sound bites, in particular, was almost comically evident during Tuesday evening’s presidential debate: He kept attempting to goad Joe Biden into uttering phrases as if they were magic words that would make or break him with whole swaths of voters, and when the Democrat didn’t robotically repeat “Green New Deal” or refer to expansive public works programs as “socialism,” Trump would shriek that Biden had “lost the left!” — as if the left was just waiting for those specific incantations to determine its vote. (As an ostensible member of the left myself, I’m not expecting Biden to join the Democratic Socialists of America, but I’m still planning on voting for him.)

So when Biden said Tuesday that “the Green New Deal is not my plan” and “no, I don’t support the Green New Deal,” Trump pounced: “Oh, you don’t? Oh, well, that’s a big statement. You just lost the radical left.” But “Green New Deal” is not a magic phrase that proves a belief in climate science. It is a plan for addressing climate change through discrete policies. And Biden has embraced enough of its pieces to make it obvious that his climate policy would be better than Trump’s, even if he’s not on board with the whole thing.

The president tried the same tactic when Biden insisted that his health-care plan would still allow private insurance for most Americans. “Joe, you agreed with Bernie Sanders, who’s far left, on the manifesto, we call it. And that gives you socialized medicine,” Trump said. When Biden said there is no manifesto, the president replied, triumphant, “He just lost the left!”

Trump may have expected this to work because so much of his career has involved successfully deploying magic words, either by branding a catchphrase (“You’re fired!”) or appealing