I missed most of the debate last night, because it occurred during the dinner hour out here on the left coast, and dinner is a sacred institution in our household. But I saw enough to see why everyone thinks it stunk.
I did, however, flip around to take in some of the post game show on several news channels, and I was struck by how uniformly glum the liberal network news types were. The subtext here was that Biden was weak in the face of Trump’s boorishness. The fact that so many media figures are saying the next two debates should be canceled is quite telling. I’m guessing they know Biden is going to wilt under the onslaught.
About which: it is hardly a news flash that Trump can be a bully. But there may be a method to his seeming madness. Remember how Biden manhandled Paul Ryan in the 2012 debate by constantly interrupting and ridiculing Ryan? Ryan’s mistake was that he came prepared to debate policy ideas—silly wonk that he is—while Biden wanted to make Ryan look young and inexperienced. And he was successful at doing that with Ryan. Trump wasn’t about to let that happen, but along the way he did induce Biden into making several mistakes, such as refusing to answer about court packing, and getting Biden to back away from the Green New Deal. And ask yourself a simple question: who looked like the stronger person on that stage? That isn’t a close call.
But finally, let’s also state something obvious. Despite what the media mandarins say, this is exactly the debate they wanted. Ignore all the high minded talk about wanting to debate “the issues.” The media live for spectacle, and zinger moments they can riff on for weeks and years. If the media wanted an actual debate on substance, a simple change in the format could accomplish this. Go back to something like the Lincoln-Douglas format. Allow each candidate 5 – 7 minutes to make a speech, and then have the other candidate give a 3 – 5 minute rebuttal. Then flip it around for the second issue, etc. Don’t have any back-and-forth.
The current format of two-minute answers plus back-and-forth was always going to degenerate into the WWF spectacle we saw last night. We’ve been trending that way for years. I think the real reason the media is disappointed in this debate is that it was so messy they don’t have clean zinger moments they can put on an endless loop on TV. If you want evidence for this, watch the news today (if you can stand it), and I predict it will feature a lot of “expert” talking heads repeating how this was: The. Worst. Debate. Ever. Please—spare me.