Shedding all semblance of decency, let alone public civility, a desperate Trump turned Tuesday’s presidential debate not only into a brawl but also a national embarrassment. Behaving like a petulant teenager, Trump rolled his eyes, constantly interrupted, hectored, tried to pick fights, and generally made a fool of himself as more than 80 million Americans tuned in, most of whom were likely thinking, ‘What have we become as a nation?’
It was clearly the worst presidential debate in American history, as Fox News moderator Chris Wallace got completely steamrolled by Trump’s bullying ways. And it was a debacle that Trump pre-planned. Allergic to debate prep and still seething about the blockbuster revelation about his massive tax evasion practices, Trump arrived with one goal — to make sure the debate was incomprehensible and that viewers learned as little as possible.
That’s why it’s time to call off the next two debates. Tuesday’s car wreck was a complete waste of time.
Months ago, I urged the Biden campaign to not show up for any of the debates this election season because I didn’t see the benefit of sharing the stage with a madman for 90 minutes. There’s no upside to normalizing his behavior with a presidential debate and the legitimacy it provides. Now everyone sees the results. Biden held his own last night, there’s no question, telling Trump more than once to “shut up,” which in the past would have been unthinkable for a Democrat to utter on a debate stage. And it was exactly what was called for.
But there’s no need to repeat the fiasco. There’s no need for Biden to show up again so Trump can smear Biden family members, make a mockery out of public discourse, and lie relentlessly about every topic discussed during the forums. Running for president is serious business, and Trump is a child.
And yes, the 2020 debates are already so much worse than the 2016 debates, when, in retrospect, Trump at least pretended to occasionally follow some of the norms of public behavior. But all of that is gone now. Lost in the authoritarian power that he craves in the White House, Trump deems it beneath him to share the stage, and the spotlight, with another politician.
Another reason for Biden to politely bow out is because while the press is going to correctly portray the Tuesday debate as a stunning failure, they’re going to couch it in Both Sides language, suggesting Biden was somehow at all responsible for the national embarrassment when it was entirely Trump’s doing.
That was apparent in real-time last night. From Politico: “The first Trump-Biden debate: A trainwreck.” New York Times: “Sharp Personal Attacks and Name-Calling in Chaotic First Debate.” CNN: “Pure Chaos at First Debate.” The Washington Post: “First Trump-Biden meeting marked by constant interruptions by Trump.” Technically those headlines were accurate, but all the news outlets presented the story as if both sides were to blame for the televised disintegration.
There’s also the simple fact that unless the Commission on Presidential Debates allows moderators to cut off Trump’s mic for the next two forums, it’s not possible for any moderator to keep control of the event. Wallace was completely humiliated by Trump, who ran over the Fox News anchor at every turn, making it impossible for there to be anything remotely resembling a revealing or intelligent debate.
Comically, Wallace told the New York Times he wanted to be “invisible” during the debate, meaning it was up to the candidates to engage each other. Commission officials actually thought Wallace would act as a “facilitator,” gently walking Trump through the evening’s topics. That makes sense if you think Trump is a rational, sane person. But Trump’s a nihilistic actor. And the Beltway’s refusal to acknowledge that — to think that protocols like presidential debates could still be adhered to — fueled last night’s disaster.
It also lends credence to canceling the next two debates, because it’s not possible to stage a two-person debate when one of them is a sociopath. The debate Commission can act quickly to try to save this format, by allowing Trump’s mic to be cut. But anything short of that would be a waste of time. It would be a waste of Biden’s time, and a waste of Americans’ time.
Trump has torn up so many norms and traditions with his radical behavior. So let’s add another one to the list — let’s cancel the next two debates. Nobody will miss them.
Eric Boehlert Press Run