Sunday, June 23, 2024

Grumpy Old Men 3

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari)
I think most political scientists would agree that the only presidential debates that had an effect on an election was the first televised presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. That election was one of the closest in US history. Kennedy handily won by 84 electoral votes in the College but Nixon took 26 states to Kennedy's 22 and lost the popular vote by fewer than 113,000. The four debates between Nixon and Kennedy were crucial for both candidates and no doubt voters had what they saw on TV in mind when they went to the polls that November.
     And I believe most if not all those same political scientists would agree that, since 1960, presidential debates had waned in influence to the point that now everyone knows they don't move the needle for one candidate or the other one bit, especially in this age of political polarization. About the only value American voters get out of a presidential debate is hearing each candidates' policy positions. That is, if they stick to policy positions and not veer into personal insults.
     And that brings us to Donald Trump and his debate in four days with President Joe Biden. Starting with his series of debates with Secretary Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump had degraded what used to be something with some gravitas to a WWE spectacle. For some reason, the old rules of decorum didn't apply to Trump. During his debates with Clinton, for instance, he was allowed to wander around the stage and basically breathe down her neck while she spoke. When she brought up him not paying his taxes, he interrupted her and said that made him "smart."
     Things didn't get any better four years later when he debated Biden. Again, he kept boorishly interrupting. An exasperated Chris Wallace almost immediately lost control of the debate when Trump simply wouldn't shut up while Biden was speaking, leading him to say, "Will you shut up, man?" And all they had to do was to impose some common sense rules that they're finally going with now.
     And the reason for this is because the Debate Commission is not controlling this debate but CNN. The moderators will be Jake Tapper and Dana Bash (naturally, Trump has recently attacked both of them) and there will be rules in place to prevent the debate from becoming a free for all. Before, Trump forced his Democratic challenger to crawl into his own muck and mire. This will be different.
     The rules are thus:
     No studio audience.
     No pre-written notes.
     No props save for a pad, a pen and a bottle of water.
     Each man will get two minutes to answer questions, after which their microphone will be cut off.
     Each will have 60 seconds to rebut and another minute to answer rebuttals.
     They'll have to stand behind their respective podiums.
     There will be no opening statements. Trump gets the closing statement, which was determined by a coin toss.
    In most of these instances, Trump loses because that will effectively nullify his entire debate "strategy". Indeed, one is amazed Trump even consented to this debate and its rules considering his invariable aversion to debating during the primary season. And, in tried-and-true Republican fashion, he's already lowering expectations and, as with the election, is calling the debate rigged. And that's because, for the first time, Trump's going to be forced to sit at the grownup table and to act the part.
     So, what's that going to leave us with?
     Two frightfully old men who are going to waggle their fingers at the other and call each other old.
     Some people are predicting that at some point, Trump will rip off his microphone and storm off the stage but his pride won't let him do that. It's one thing to refuse to show up and make excuses but it's another thing to act like a toddler having a temper tantrum on live national television.
     So Trump will have no choice but to walk into the lion's den in Atlanta, ironically the same state in which he's under criminal indictment for trying to corrupt state officials to overturn the 2020 election, with Joe Biden being the aging lion.
     Now, there's no point in soft-pedaling the obvious, that Biden is old. He's 81 and will be 82 right after Election Day, meaning if he finishes a second term, he'll be 86. True, he's long past his prime, the Joe Biden that the late, great Hunter S. Thompson once called, "a rabid weasel on speed." He makes gaffes (who doesn't?), he stutters (We've known that for years) and he speaks more slowly (a natural effect of aging).
     But one doesn't need to be a syndicated media critic to know the MSM are falling down on the job and, as always, is trying to portray this as a neck and neck horse race between two candidates with approximate cognitive powers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
     Trump is now literally at the point where he can no longer make a public appearance or give an interview without making one verbal miscue after another. Meanwhile, the president is capably managing the largest economy on earth, the most most powerful military on the planet and one of the largest governments. The economy is in great shape, unemployment numbers are at their lowest since the 70s and Biden, an old foreign policy wonk from way back, is restoring our international prestige that took a hammering after four years of Trump.
     Meanwhile, the MSM are saying, "...but his age!"
    But the fact is, the president has been holed up in Camp David with his closest and most capable advisors doing debate prep, as you would expect of any professional politician running for office. Trump?
     He's busy smearing his greasy thumbprints all over his iphone while he scrawls one nasty post after another on his failing Truth Social.
     So, what can we expect on the 27th?
   It's a fool's errand to get into predictions. But with Donald Trump's now well-documented psychopathology, we can make some well-educated guesses. Since he's not used to having microphones cut off on him, he'll be reduced to making sour faces behind his podium and maybe even shout across the stage like a barfly at last call (Don't forget his audible muttering during witness testimony at the Manhattan criminal trial).
     He'll make a vain attempt to get around the rules and bend them to his liking, which also will not work. Trump is nothing if not a control freak and all Biden will have to do is stand there with a smile on his face. But again, even though this is the most highly anticipated debate in recent memory, look for Trump to find a way to back out at the last minute because he's a coward to the very bottom of his soul. And he can't stand the idea of being muzzled or to have his avowed enemy Joe Biden best him in a debate on national TV.


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