The first debate was off the rails and unbefitting a great nation, but that wasn't exactly unexpected. As the proceedings rapidly deteriorated on Tuesday night, a narrative began to congeal on social media: The event was such a disgrace that Joe Biden, already pursuing a "prevent defense" electoral strategy, should refuse to participate in the two remaining forums. This suggestion was a staple of CNN's post-debate coverage, and various "Never Trump" figures were similarly promoting a "walk away and don't look back" course of action. This attitude is fueled by a combination of three factors: Seething and longstanding hatred of Trump, a conviction that Biden is already in a position to adopt a victory formation and salt the game away, and genuine horror at the spectacle that played out earlier in the week.
Their thinking goes, he's a vulgar bully who's already shown us who he is, Biden shouldn't risk participating in anything that could jump-start Trump's flagging campaign, and America doesn't need a re-run of that disgrace. But the Biden campaign has already re-affirmed that they will be participating in all three debates, as scheduled, though they're mumbling about some needed "conversations:"
.@KBeds on the next debates: "Joe Biden’s going to show up. He's going to continue speaking directly to the American people." She added later that there ongoing discussions with debate commission, and "I would imagine there would be some additional conversations" after tonight.— Mike Memoli (@mikememoli) September 30, 2020
Is that their trap door? Demand changes to the rules, not secure them, then back out? Or is that just a perfunctory signal to their allies ("yes, we know it was a mess"), as they gear up for the next clash? I think it's likely the latter. Why? Because Trump's out-of-control debate comportment aligns perfectly with their victory strategy. In case you missed it, here's what I wrote yesterday:
One passage: pic.twitter.com/U9oPqGMnfR— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) September 30, 2020
Here's political analyst Amy Walter putting it another way:
The reason Trump is losing women, independent voters, suburban voters is that they are exhausted by the chaos, the constant attacks and drama. He is leaning into all of that in this debate.— amy walter (@amyewalter) September 30, 2020
Maybe Trump is deliberately trying to drive turnout through the floor, as she and others are suggesting. Whether or not that's his intentional goal, it might be working, to some extent. But I don't think it's that deep. This is who Trump is, and Team Biden has decided that "Trump being Trump" is an asset to them. That's why I think Allahpundit (who generously quotes me in his post about this) is broadly correct:
But that [no more debates!] strategy has problem. For one, Biden wasn’t so masterful last night that he erased all doubts in the minds of people who suspect he’s “lost a step.” If he pockets last night’s ugly victory and walks away, those doubts may hurt him at the polls. Also, for reasons I don’t understand, there are still many, many millions of people who believe things that Trump says, and if Biden ducked the final two debates Trump will happily spend the next five weeks accusing him of trying to hide his Alzheimer’s or whatever. Does that matter in a race where Biden’s winning comfortably? Nah, probably not. Does that matter in a race that tightens in the final few weeks due to unforeseen circumstances? Yeah, maybe...Their strategy is also “Let Trump be Trump.” Hide in the basement, say as little as possible, and do the debates because Trump is certainly going to be Trump in front of an audience of 90 million people...Trump will adjust his approach in the second and third debates -- but he’s still Trump. He can only adjust so much...He is who he is.
It's in their interests, twice over, to participate in at least one more debate. Meanwhile, I'm personally still rooting for the debates to continue, on the off chance that someone finally decides to really push the Democratic ticket on court-packing. Their evasive answers have been wholly unacceptable, and some Senate Democrats are now explicitly telling voters that we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about whether they'll, er, add seats to the Supreme Court until...after the election. Just give us unified power, and we'll see what happens:
"If you’re considering doing something that was considered too far beyond the pale for Franklin Roosevelt to do even at the height of his popularity, you have an obligation to mention it to voters, no?" You'd think so. Remember, voters aren't supportive of this radical project, about which Democrats are suspiciously dissembling. I'd really, really like to see more dogged journalistic curiosity on this point. Alas: