NOTE: This post was ready for publication when the news came in this morning about Trump’s viral infection. When the cheering stopped, I realized the election was potentially upended and there would likely be no more presidential debates. Still, I hope you’ll find this worth reading.
Response to the first presidential debate was, you may have noticed, almost universally negative. The debate was so unnerving to so many people that the Commission of Presidential Debates (which controls how these performances are set up) has offered to fix things for the next two scheduled debates. This is a little like Ford trying to resuscitate the Edsel.
The debates have become a corrupted game show. The Commission could make them more entertaining by acknowledging this: signaling interruptions with a loud buzzer, for instance, and opening a trap door beneath his feet if the offender continues talking.
Really, the debates ought to be canceled. The Commission can have no sensible way to fix them. And people are not going to tune into another shitshow. Muting the mic of the offending interrupter, which has been widely suggested, would never be accepted by the Trump campaign.
One presidential debate historian said: “Muting a speaker on live TV is awkward, and could go wrong. Do they start shouting? Does Trump walk over to Biden’s lectern and talk into his mic? All bets are off with this particular debater.”
Trump is never going to change his tactics, which are something like the following:
Any American who has caught a glimpse of the 2016 presidential debates, a White House press conference, or even a recent Trump interview with [moderator Chris] Wallace himself knows that the president’s sole tactic when engaging with anyone calling him to task is to deflect, interrupt, and lean on ad hoc jabs.
That’s a nice way of putting it.
If the Commission and the campaigns don’t agree to cancel the debates, then Biden is in a trap. Really, he should simply withdraw if he has any self-respect. He will get heavy criticism from the Trumpers for chickening out but could always buy (or be given) a half hour’s TV time to explain why he’s canceling the debates, show clips of Trump’s behavior and explain his programs. There is no way you can look presidential while Trump is dumping shit on your head.
When asked on CNN about a possible Biden withdrawal, Kamala Harris said he must keep going because he needs every chance to address the American people. He is crazy to do that unless the debate form is radically changed. Even then, he will necessarily be put on the defensive.
The debates have finally outlived their usefulness, and Trump will never change his tune. There is no common ground with this man.