Thursday, October 1, 2020

Debate, debase, debacle! 'So unpresidential'

“This Is So Unpresidential”: Notes from the Worst Debate in American History. Susan B. Glasser at the New Yorker shares some notes on the debacle Trump talked and talked on Tuesday night, but, politically speaking, it added up to nothing.

Here are opening and closing paragraphs.

What does the worst debate in American history look like? It looks like the debate that took place on Tuesday night between President Donald Trump and the former Vice-President Joe Biden. It was a joke, a mess, a disaster. A “shit show,” a “dumpster fire,” a national humiliation. No matter how bad you thought the debate would be, it was worse. Way worse. Trump shouted, he bullied, he hectored, he lied, and he interrupted, over and over again.

Remarkably enough, it was seemingly on purpose. Losing in the polls, and with the country stricken by a pandemic that has claimed two hundred thousand American lives, the President offered incoherent bluster, inflammatory racism, and personal attacks on his opponent’s son. But mostly what came through was Trump’s refusal to shut up. He talked and talked and talked. He talked over Biden. He talked over the moderator, Fox News’s Chris Wallace. He talked over Biden some more. How bad was it? The line that history is likely to record as among the most memorable was Biden’s lament, at the end of the debate’s very first segment: “Will you just shut up, man? This is so unpresidential.”

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But, even for Trump, there was something particularly over the top about his debate performance on Tuesday night. It was more of a primal scream than a political appearance, a rant by a man who not only cannot control himself but for some reason thinks he does not have to try. Who could this possibly have been designed to persuade? For the last few months, as polls have shown the decisive suburbs slipping away from him, Trump has talked about his appeal to the “suburban housewives” of America. If there is a single additional suburban housewife, or any woman, who is voting for Trump after that debate, I would like to meet her. The bottom line is that Trump’s chances for a second term are dwindling fast. He knows it. Which is why he will not shut up, on the debate stage or anywhere else, for the next thirty-four days. At this point, there is only one way to get Donald Trump to shut up. “Elections have consequences,” he said, in his very first answer of the evening. To which America will soon have its chance to reply: yes, they do.

Cornered Trump is losing. He knows. We know. He knows that we know.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) explains [Why an out-of-control president raged through a cringe-worthy debate.] _ Chris Christie said of the debate, “The problems the president had tonight can potentially be fixed.” But they can’t – and that’s the problem.

To call last night’s event a debate is itself a dubious assertion. Joe Biden and Donald Trump may have shared a stage, and they may be seeking the same office at the same time, but to believe the Democratic and Republican nominees were each contributing to the civil discourse in the same way is to ignore what actually happened in Cleveland’s new Mistake On The Lake.

Rachel’s post-debate analysis rang true for a reason:

“The clear choice that the American people have to make doesn’t much feel like a choice between Biden and Trump. It feels like a choice between a type of civic, normal politics, where there are debates, which have rules, where people on both sides may talk over each other a little bit, but at least they are participating in the same process, and we ultimately decide which one of them we want to be the leader. Or we have what we have seen tonight, and what this incumbent president is promising, which is a monstrous, unintelligible display of logorrhea, which has absolutely nothing to do with civic discourse, with debate, or even with the integrity of the contest they’re about to approach…. This sort of debate shouldn’t happen in a democracy.”

It’s tempting to try to process debates through conventional questions. What did the candidates hope to accomplish? Who were their target audiences? What core messages did they try to get across? What was their strategy and what does it tell us about the state of the race?

None of those lines of inquiry seemed especially relevant last night. The unprepared president didn’t have a strategy, per se, he had a tantrum.

It’s likely Trump felt as if he didn’t have a choice. By every available metric, Joe Biden is winning the 2020 race, and his performance last night, while occasionally halting, was more than enough to keep him in the lead. Republicans spent months inexplicably lowering expectations for the former vice president, and he cleared them easily.

This led the incumbent to act like a child losing a board game, deciding it’s better to simply toss the board in the air than to endure an embarrassment.

Among the problems for the GOP ticket is the fact that Trump is running out of time and opportunities to change the trajectory of the race. In recent weeks, the partisan lines were clear: Democrats feared Biden would have a poor performance and put his lead in jeopardy, while Republicans saw the debate as a chance to put the president’s campaign on a new course.

As the dust settles this morning, Democratic fears have eased, and Republican hopes have been dashed. In a rather literal sense, Trump was unable to help himself, lacking the wherewithal to act like an adult for 90 minutes.

The result was the worst presidential debate in U.S. history, a 90-minute ordeal unworthy of a great nation. Americans have never seen anything quite like this, and if we are very fortunate, the country never will again.

Other reactions were reported in Letters from an American by Heather Cox Richardson.

Neo-Nazis and right-wing thugs are thrilled they have a fellow traveler in the White House. “I got shivers,” Andrew Anglin, the founder of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, wrote Wednesday. “I still have shivers. He is telling the people to stand by. As in: Get ready for war.”

But not everyone was thrilled with Trump’s performance. Focus groups of women were turned off by his bullying, and his male supporters thought he interrupted too much. An adviser called it “a disaster.” Politico’s chief political correspondent Tim Alberta thought Trump looked exhausted and “behaved like cornered prey.” The Commission on Presidential Debates is reworking its rules to try to prevent another spectacle like last night. Foreign observers were “aghast,” according to an AP report; Kenyan commentator Patrick Gathara wrote: “This debate would be sheer comedy if it wasn’t such a pitiful and tragic advertisement for U.S. dysfunction.”

Even within the White House people were dismayed. “It’s nuts…” “total lunacy,” an official and a staffer told Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman. A prominent Republican added: “Trump didn’t win over any voters, and he pissed off a lot of people.”

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