Friday, December 13, 2019


I should be writing about impeachment or the U.K. elections, but let me quickly address this, from Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni at The New York Times.
Will Trump Debate a Democrat in 2020? He’s Not So Sure.
I run into a lot of people who think Trump's mental faculties are slipping significantly. I know he slurs words every so often -- whether that's neurological or pharmacological is anyone's guess. I know there have been reports since the early days of his presidency that in private he repeats anecdotes multiple times in a short timespan. But I also know that he does frequent rallies where he rants, with better-than-average comedy timing, for an hour or more. I've been told he sounds like a drunk -- but he sounds like a drunk comedian who still knows his craft. (Many comedians perform drunk, and some of them are quite competent under those conditions.)

Here's the tell: You can't identify moments -- in his rallies, in chopper talk, in other public settings when he's speaking impromptu -- when Trump is holding forth and you literally don't know what he's talking about. He may meander to subjects that seem utterly irrelevant to the moment -- like toilets that don't flush as powerfully as he'd like them to -- but in these moments Trump is focusing on very real grievances, some of them strictly personal, others that are shared with much of the right. A lot of conservatives don't like water-saving toilets. Hours of right-wing talk radio have been devoted to the topic of water-saving toilets. When you're a grievance junkie and you've run out of the good stuff, you'll shoot up anything that will satisfy your craving, and that describes the vast majority of our fellow citizens who vote Republican. The toilet monologue was ill-informed and included the usual Trump hyperbole with numbers -- you don't really have to flush these toilets ten or fifteen times to get them to work -- but the monologue was coherent. And your elderly right-wing relatives probably thought it was spot-on.

Trump thinks he's a great communicator. He actually is a better communicator than the Democrats' current front-runner. He also has a firm belief in his own intimidation skills. So yes, he will debate.

If you read the article, you can see that Trump isn't really threatening non-participation. He's bluffing.
President Trump is discussing with his advisers the possibility of sitting out the general election debates in 2020 because of his misgivings about the commission that oversees them, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Trump has told advisers that he does not trust the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonprofit entity that sponsors the debates, the two people said.

Less of a concern for Mr. Trump than who will emerge as the Democratic nominee is which media personality will be chosen as the debate moderator, according to people in contact with him.
There you go. He's working the refs, and he's doing it early. He wants pro-Trump moderators. He'll probably make other demands. He and his team will be so obnoxious that they might get their way, and if they don't, he'll complain that the debate commission is "very unfair," which will be his cover if legitimate polls show he lost the debates.

He, of course, will insist he won all the debates. He'll cite unscientific polls at Drudge and other right-wing sites as proof that he did. Social media will be bombarded with the message that he won. His base will believe his hype.
Former Clinton aides said they expected Mr. Trump to participate in at least one 2020 debate, despite the president’s hints that he would refuse. “Not doing any would not be strategically smart,” said Philippe Reines, a longtime Clinton adviser, who predicted that “he’ll bluff that he won’t do any with the goal of only having to do one.”
That's not his goal. He'll do as many as are on offer, or he'll strategically turn down one debate as a power move. (That's what he did during 2016 primaries. He showed up for all the rest.) I'm not sure why his team wants us to believe he's afraid to debate -- if it were someone else, I'd assume it was an effort to make the Democrats overconfident, but it also hints that Trump is weak, and he doesn't like sending that signal. In any case, he isn't afraid to debate. In his mind, and in the minds of millions of others, he's that guy with the Photoshopped Rocky body, and he'll win every fight.

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