Friday, September 13, 2019


I think New York magazine's Eric Levitz has a point:
Would You Leave Joe Biden Alone With Trump?

The Democratic frontrunner cannot speak in complete sentences when he is feeling tired or defensive. And 90 minutes of debate is enough to make him tired. And a reference to something that he said about race in the 1970s is enough to make him defensive.

These were my three main takeaways from the Democratic Party’s third presidential primary debate in Houston on Thursday. And they’ve left me rather apprehensive about the prospect of the Democrats sending Joe Biden into battle against Donald Trump next year. A three-hour debate can be tiring. But a 14-month campaign would seem considerably more so. If Biden can’t keep his talking points straight for an entire evening, what shape will he be in after running the gauntlet between today and his televised showdowns with the president next fall? And if a pointed question from an ABC News anchor can reduce him to spasms of anxious blather, how well will he hold up when Trump comes after his family?
I'm an Elizabeth Warren fan who nevertheless thought Biden did a decent job of defending healthcare incrementalism in the opening moments of last night's debate. I'll admit I turned the TV off before the now-viral moment Levitz is talking about, which is being mocked for incoherence, for a supposedly outdated reference to a "record player" (but hasn't vinyl been making a comeback for years now?), and even for racism.

Levitz says we need a better debater going up against Trump. I'd wholeheartedly agree -- if I didn't remember 2016.

Here were the polls in the aftermath of the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016:

Go to Wikipedia and scroll down for the numbers on all three debates. Clinton won every debate overwhelmingly.

In the end, what good did that do her?

I think Elizabeth Warren would beat Trump in every debate. She's getting good notices for last night -- she deftly interwove the political and personal; she had energy and a command of the facts.

But there's a large percentage of the electorate that doesn't want a smart president, especially a smart woman. I'm not sure a smart man would do better. Too much of the electorate distrusts intelligence. To those who like him, Donald Trump comes off as a backslapping, gregarious Big Man on Campus. That's a type Americans have always gravitated toward. Poll respondents might acknowledge that Warren debated better, but their gut reaction might be that they liked Trump more.

Or at least that's what might happen if 2016 is a model. At this point, I don't think it is. I think much of the public (though not the persistent 40% of his base) sees Trump as an unhinged guy you cross the street to avoid. In that case, any decent Democrat might outpoll him on Election Day, perhaps even after weak debates.

I think Biden's gaffes humanize him in the eyes of many voters. Some of them liked the fact that Trump wasn't polished and now like the fact that Biden isn't. Polish is what elites have. They don't like elites.

I don't know what will work in 2020. I'm just not sure that nominating a bad debater is a guarantee of defeat for the Democrats. It could conceivably work out better than nominating a good one.

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