The Corner

Politics & Policy

Why Do Some Biden Supporters Want No Debates This Autumn?

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden departs after speaking about his plans to combat racial inequality at a campaign event in Wilmington, Del., July 28, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Why is there this sudden enthusiasm for canceling the presidential debates?

Tom Friedman, back on July 7: “Biden should declare that he will take part in a debate only if Trump releases his tax returns for 2016 through 2018. . . . Second, Biden should insist that a real-time fact-checking team approved by both candidates be hired by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates — and that 10 minutes before the scheduled conclusion of the debate this team report on any misleading statements, phony numbers or outright lies either candidate had uttered.”

Elizabeth Drew, in an op-ed in the New York Times, yesterday: “Let’s scrap the presidential debates. They’ve become unrevealing quip contests.”

Alex Shephard, writing in The New Republic: “The truth is that the debates have long since stopped serving the needs of voters and instead only exist to benefit television networks and cable news, in particular. Perhaps it’s time to consign them to the dustbin of history.”

Former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart, writing at CNN: “Whatever you do, don’t debate Trump. . . . It’s a fool’s errand to enter the ring with someone who can’t follow the rules or the truth.”

Bill Kristol tweeted yesterday, “If early voting is underway before the scheduled debates, then it seems unfair to early voters to have those debates as scheduled. But so much work went in to the schedule that it seems unfair to change it. So I guess the fairest thing might be to skip the debates this year.”

All of these figures are pulling for Joe Biden to win in November. All of them are suddenly and surprisingly insistent that the incumbent and challenger arguing about who could do a better job for three 90-minute sessions on national television would be very, very bad for the country.

They’re sure acting like they fear Biden could lose the election because of bad debate performances, aren’t they?

Biden had some pretty lousy performances in this cycle’s Democratic presidential primary debates, but he soldiered on and won anyway. Biden also had some pretty good nights. He held his own in the one-on-one debate against Bernie Sanders as the pandemic started shutting down America.

It’s weird to see so many prominent Democrats seemingly intimidated by the thought of their nominee debating the president. Donald Trump isn’t exactly Cicero or Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill when it comes to oratorical persuasion. He goes off-message or creates new controversies with metronomic regularity.

But Trump is lively and aggressive, and it is easy to picture him going for the jugular at any point in the debates, with some series of attacks along the lines of, “Your son was corrupt and you helped cover it up, you were a miserable failure as vice president, you’re going senile and you’ll be a puppet for the Communists who control your party, and your running mate plans on taking over your job within a year!” And it’s equally easy to see Biden just not looking sharp or forceful in his rebuttal.

Could that cost Biden the election? Some prominent Democrats and Trump critics seem to think so.

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