Wednesday, September 30, 2020


As I watched the beginning of last night's debate, my reaction was similar to Margaret Sullivan's:
Chris Wallace wanted to be “invisible” as the moderator of the first presidential debate. “If I’ve done my job right,” he said on his Fox News show Sunday, “at the end of the night, people will say, ‘That was a great debate. Who was the moderator?’ ”

It’s an absurd understatement to say that things didn’t play out that way Tuesday night.

Wallace was far from invisible. Instead, he was ineffective. Profoundly so.

And although some media observers were quick to trash the veteran broadcaster, that may have been unfair. It’s hard to know what he — or anyone — could have done, given President Trump’s refusal to abide by the rules or observe even a modicum of decorum....

Wallace needed, at the very least, a mute button. Maybe something stronger. A penalty box? A stun gun?
I thought Joe Biden seemed tired and haggard. He'd disciplined himself to do little more than smile a tight smile and try to return to the points he was attempting to make as he was being verbally assaulted. The column Jonathan Capehart published on Monday seemed relevant:
If bed-wetting were an Olympic sport, Democrats would have a lock on the gold, silver and bronze medals. The latest example of this annoying affliction surfaced in a story in The Post with the anxiety-inducing headline “Trump readies a debate onslaught — and Biden allies worry.”

The TL;DR version of the story is that because President Trump is a hissing feral cat who will say anything to get under Joe Biden’s skin, some argue that the Democratic presidential nominee must keep his anger in check at their Tuesday debate in Cleveland. The key quote came from John Morgan, a Florida trial lawyer and major Biden donor: “When you go at [Biden’s] family, he becomes hotter than hell, which is part of the thing I worry about,” Morgan said. “I think what Biden has to be careful about is not letting his Irish temper blow when that happens.”

Biden should ignore this guy....

... Biden should let that “Irish temper blow.” But he should do it with purpose.
Trump was "a hissing feral cat," and Biden rarely gave vent to his temper. (I know: At one point Biden said, "Will you shut up, man?" But he said it with weary exasperation, and it didn't deter Trump at all.)

At first, I thought the debate was a disaster for Biden. But by the time it was over, it was clear that no one would remember Trump's attacks because all we'll remember is the crazed assault itself. We watched Trump do to Joe Biden for a concentrated ninety minutes what he's been doing to an exhausted America since the summer of 2015. The message: There's nothing else. This is all there is to a Trump presidency, and this is all there'll be if he wins another four years.

In a CBS insta-poll, 48% of respondents said Biden won the debate, 41% said Trump. The numbers were more lopsided in a CNN poll: 60% Biden, 28% Trump. Nine of the 15 undecided voters in a Frank Luntz focus group were still undecided after the debate, but four switched to Biden and only two to Trump. At the betting market PredictIt, Biden's numbers are up.

I realize that Hillary Clinton was seen as the winner of her debates with Trump, and that didn't get her elected. But in 2016 some voters wanted to take a chance on a pot-stirring outsider. Most of them are still happy with the choice, but a majority of Americans want to stop being pummeled the way Biden was last night.

I'm seeing this a lot right now: I disagree. Canceling the debates would send a signal that Trump won by debating the way he did. Trump's base believes that every individual and institution in America that isn't explicitly pro-Trump is part of an organized partisan conspiracy against him, so canceling the debates would be treated as a Democratic subterfuge meant to shield Biden from harm.

Change the rules if necessary -- or maybe the rules just need to be enforced. But let the debates continue. Let Trump remind America again how miserable he can make the next four years if he's given a chance.

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