Nationally televised presidential debates have been de rigueur in American politics ever since John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in the 1960 contest. When candidates face off before millions of people, the voting public can see how well each contender does under pressure. Viewership is always high for this American political tradition, so why all the talk in 2020 about canceling the debates?
Don’t Do It, Joe
President Donald Trump’s supporters have been chomping at the bit to get their guy mano-a-mano with the former vice president. Meanwhile, Joe Biden is under increasing pressure not to debate the president. Leading the charge to sink the debates is none other than America’s newspaper of record – The New York Times. It has been sending its heavy hitters into the political stratosphere to see if scrapping the debates gathers wind speed with the Biden campaign.
First among the public naysayers was The Times’ Thomas Friedman with an article titled “Biden Should Not Debate Trump Unless … ” Next in line was the renowned Elizabeth Drew with a novel idea in “Let’s Scrap the Presidential Debates.” In between these bookends, former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart rode headlong into the storm with an article for CNN. Warning Biden, Lockhart wrote, “Whatever you do, don’t debate Trump.”
Does anyone sense a pattern here?
Biden is no stranger to the debate stage. As a multi-decade professional politician, he has certainly held his own in the past. Could it be Democrats don’t feel Joe is up to it these days? Do they fear Trump will eviscerate Biden in a one-on-one competition? Of course, they do not put that forth in arguing against Trump/Biden debates. Each trial balloon floated by the #don’tdebate club provides a different reason.
Debates have “become unrevealing quip contests,” claimed Drew. “The debates never made sense as a test for presidential leadership.” Further, she contended:
“In fact, one could argue that they reward precisely the opposite of what we want in a president. When we were serious about the presidency, we wanted intelligence, thoughtfulness, knowledge, empathy, and, to be sure, likability. It should also go without saying, dignity.”
She likened presidential debates to “professional wrestling matches” and concluded, “There’s no reason not to throw the presidential debates on the trash heap of useless (at best) rituals that are no help in our making such a fateful decision.”
The Times’ Friedman didn’t go as far as Drew, but the endgame appeared to be similar. He suggested Biden set two conditions for a debate with Trump: The president must release his tax returns, and a real-time fact-checking team should be hired to monitor and issue a report on the accuracy of what the candidates said. In other words, Friedman wanted the Biden campaign to set a bar that the Trump people will almost certainly turn down.
The question that Biden strategists must ask themselves is what will cause more damage: letting their candidate debate Trump and potentially look lost and confused or spinning the “chicken” label till Election Day if Biden bows out?
In his CNN piece, Lockhart already provided an answer to that. “It’s a fool’s errand to enter the ring with someone who can’t follow the rules or the truth. Biden will undoubtedly take heat from Republicans and the media for skipping the debates. But it’s worth the risk as trying to debate someone incapable of telling the truth is an impossible contest to win.” To that, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted “Basement strategy, part 2.”
With so much air cover and ground support from the big names in the leftist advocacy media, chances are excellent that a Trump/Biden debate will never see the light of day. All the former vice president has to do is listen to his handlers in the media, who seem to control his agenda. Whether a pasty vitamin D-deprived Biden ever emerges from the confines of his home to mount the debate stage now appears less likely than ever.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.