Not Great Expectations Or Performances. Repercussions Pending?

Timestamp: Very early Saturday afternoon

The biggest story of the week just ended (regardless of the timestamp this won’t be published until Sunday; I’m just allowing for unexpected event(s)), was Thursday’s debate and its repercussions. If you thought the debate was strange – and it was! – the run-up was even stranger. First off, I long thought there was a very good chance that it wouldn’t even happen. In retrospect: we should have been so lucky. The early evening of the debate I still entertained the possibility of watching a recording of it the next morning. In a strange way I’m glad I watched it live. I did not expect the debate to move the needle much since so many are already dug in and the low information and low turnout voter was unlikely to watch. Perhaps, my age is a reason but I can’t help wondering down memory lane of debates and political moves past. That is part of where I will ask you to journey with me today.


The event was hosted by CNN who provided the moderators (Dana Bash and Jake Tapper) and the participants were Joe Biden and Donald Trump. I’ll give out grades to start. Bash gets an A, Tapper an A- or B+, Biden and Trump F’s.

The moderators came in for some criticism because they failed to provide any fact checks. That was not their job. Bash gets the higher grade because she stared down Trump when he tried to speak out of turn pointing to Tapper who was, as authorized, speaking. I will however criticize CNN in that they did not provide any additional staff for fact checking which allowed Trump to repeat zombie lie after zombie lie unchecked in real time and therefore in the mind of his target audience speak the truth. (Do you really think Bubba watched the analysis on a legitimate network or read the legitimate newspapers the next morning?) Biden, much more than Trump, is trying to win election. Trump would like to win to keep his rather generously proportioned butt out of prison but in the interim, he is making a lot of money running his scam. Trump is not good at many things but he is a world class con man.

When Biden walked on stage, I knew he was in trouble. I have seen corpses that looked better. It reminded me of the first Nixon-Kennedy debate in 1960 (yes, I watched it live). Kennedy looked good on the tube and Nixon certainly did not. It is interesting that the majority of people who watched the debate felt Kennedy had won while radio listeners felt Nixon was the victor.

Trump won on style, Biden on substance. The few persuadable or motivateable listeners were much more likely to be swayed by the sizzle than the steak. The hardcore Trump supporters were thrilled and the hardcore Biden voters were largely frightened.

I want to point out two moments in the debate that have gone unmentioned in the albeit little commentary I’ve actually paid attention to. Trump called Biden “Brandon” (as in Let’s go Brandon) in passing and the president was wise to not take the bait ignoring it. Biden missed a golden opportunity when Trump used the word “stupid” during one of his “answers”. Trump often losses it when he is called “stupid” and Biden failed to pick up on that word and throw it back at Trump. Had he done so he may well have derailed Trump and got the style point contest to a draw or have produced the memorable gotcha moment this debate lacked.

My bottom line on the event itself is that I didn’t expect much and the candidates still managed to disappoint me.

Many pro-Biden people have panicked! That includes some serious people, most notably the Editorial Board of the New York Times, which has called for Biden to withdraw. This situation makes me think back to 1968. On March 31st of that year Lyndon Johnson dropped out of the race. The situation was much different in that LBJ was facing a serious challenge for the nomination (Biden, for all real intent, ran unopposed). The end result was that (while like Harry Truman) Johnson was not immediately valued by historians they now rank him among the greatest presidents. If Biden were to drop out (more on that below) he would eventually go down among in history as a great president. I don’t think he cares much about his legacy especially when compared to the immediate threat that Trump presents.

Were Biden to drop (which I neither advise nor think likely – off this event anyway) there would be a food fight on the Democratic side for the nod. I don’t see the Democrats rallying being Vice President Harris which would be “regular order”. An open convention has too much chance of being a repeat of the 1968 Democratic convention whose nominee ultimately lost in November. Which if you recall that resulted in the election of Richard Nixon whose pardon by Gerald Ford arguable enabled the first Trump presidency and the completion of the criminal Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

The Democrats haven’t had an old-fashioned open convention since 1968. As an aside that was the police riot scarred event in Chicago and like a bad omen this year’s DNC is also in Chicago. In those days – 56 years ago – you would have had to have been at least 30 (and I’m probably being generous) to have had any real juice in the party. That means nobody under 86 was around and in “power” then. Basically, everyone would be a rookie,

Off the top of my head, I can name six people I’d be happy with (Vice President Kamala Harris, along with Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts). I’m sure I left out another dozen or so others. I see a food fight, the party failing to come together and the return of Donald Trump to the Oval Office. Preventing that from happening should be the overarching goal! Remember I describe myself as an American first, then a progressive and therefore a Democrat.

I liken the situation the Democrats face in the wake of Thursday night to a good baseball team whose ace pitcher gets shelled. They don’t sell off all of their sluggers and give up; they carry on.

Trump got lucky and “won” the first debate. There may or may not be a second which is currently tentatively scheduled for September. That is much closer to Election Day and the marginal voters will be much more likely to be paying attention. That would be a must win for Biden but it would also be a must at least draw for Trump. I would not advise Biden to participate sans something at least close to real time fact checking. Also, what network would host it? If it is Fox, OAN or the like can you really trust their fact checking? I think the possibility of a second debate actually occurring is even less likely. I also don’t see Trump agreeing to legitimate fact checking and Biden needs the second debate more than Trump.

Timing is everything and Biden is lucky that this bad episode happens early and not in October! The question that hangs over all this is: In the minds of enough American voters will the need to prevent the threat to democracy that Trump poses ultimately win out?

Oh, and if you need something to do today other than read my article may I suggest you pay a bit of attention to the first round of the French elections.

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2 thoughts on “Not Great Expectations Or Performances. Repercussions Pending?”

  1. I was actually shocked by Biden’s performance and found it painful to watch. Very disappointing.

  2. Hi, Larry – what might it take for you to think that President Biden should remove himself from the Democratic ticket? If he did remove himself, who would be your top pick to replace him?

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