In this space in early September in a post entitled “Will He Debate?” I asked the question as to whether readers thought Donald Trump would participate in the traditional quadrennial exercise we call the Presidential Debates.
While virtually everyone responded that he would, a week later I offered a contrary opinion that he would not: I will swim against the tide, though, and predict that he will not debate. He will find a reason and be convinced that the debate has been rigged against him. He will then convince his base of this bias and respectfully decline because he (and his supporters) are not shown respect (besides, the controversy will make good television)…I hope he does debate because I think Joe Biden will demonstrate superior honesty, character and knowledge of the issues, thereby further shrinking the number of the President’s die-hard supporters. Not willing to risk this, I think Trump will decline.
While I would argue that, while my reasoning was faulty, my ultimate conclusion was correct: Donald Trump did not debate Joe Biden. However, never in my wildest imagination could I have envisioned the circumstances under which this would play out. In Tuesday’s “debate,” the President bullied and blustered his way through the evening in a manner that was at best a gross embarrassment to most Americans and perhaps even a national security threat as we imagine how viewers around the world perceived his performance.
The President repeatedly refused to abide by the rules that his own team had approved. His constant interruptions made the exercise almost unwatchable (as commentator James Carville quipped, “even for me and I am paid to watch”). There was no outreach to undecided voters, no effort to explain his agenda for a second term, no promise to peacefully abide by the results of the upcoming election, and no condemnation of white supremacy.
When Joe Biden turned the conversation to honoring the service in Iraq of his son Beau, the President offered no words of empathy or compassion but rather saw an opening for his pre-planned attack and asked, “Are you talking about Hunter?” Trump then launched into an unfounded diatribe about Hunter Biden. Trump’s understanding of Presidential Character was on full display and showed an inhuman inclination that was personally revolting and publicly dangerous.
This was not a debate. Like he did with coronavirus press conferences, Donald Trump turned the exercise into a reenactment of his political rallies—rabid charges against his perceived enemies and flagrant untruths about his accomplishments—long since disproved and discredited.
But the President did succeed in one thing that matters a lot to him. Talk about him dominated the post-debate conversation, feeding his narcissism. Under the old marketing adage that any publicity is good publicity, Trump won. But a result of this “victory” flipped the question in my early September post on its head, prompting thoughtful supporters of the former Vice President to to ask the question, “Should Joe Biden debate again?”
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