Debate fallout isn’t helping Trump

Early Returns

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A few more notes on the first presidential debate, which didn't make it into my initial wrap:

  • I'm baffled by the argument that Joe Biden should boycott the remaining debates. We're within five weeks of Election Day, with millions of people voting. Unless there are extraordinary reasons to do otherwise, Biden should focus on winning, and winning by as much as he can. It's still too early to say much about the effects of the first debate, but Biden won the instant polls. Democrats were bragging about fundraising while Republicans were quiet about it. Pundits generally took President Donald Trump to task for his unpresidential behavior. And a subsequent set of headlines focused on Republican politicians running away from their nominee. Trump's most sustained attack on Biden has been that he's no longer up to the job; refusing to debate would be the one thing that would make that attack seem plausible — and generate significant negative press for Biden.
  • The commission that runs the debates wants to come up with new ways to make Trump follow the rules and stop interrupting and otherwise misbehaving. I hope they back off this idea. Yes, Trump turned the debate into an unwatchable mess. But if what I said above is correct, it hurt him more than it helped him. At any rate, it showed who he is (as Biden pointed out on stage). If the debates have any purpose for voter education, it's to let the candidates tell us and show us who they are. I don't see any point in trying to get Trump to behave differently than he has so far in office or would in a second term.
  • Similarly, I think moderator Chris Wallace did a reasonably good job of making it clear that Trump was the one breaking the rules that his own campaign had agreed to. Wallace himself says he was blindsided by Trump's antics and thinks he should've pushed back earlier, and perhaps that's correct; I'd be more critical of some points later in the debate where he acted as if he was trying to reconcile with the president. I still think the best thing a moderator can normally do is to toss out topics and stay out of the way of the candidates. 
  • Sean Trende argues that Trump's boorish behavior was a strategy intended to deflect from policy realities that give him little chance to win a normal debate. I respect Trende a lot, but I'm not at all sure about that. It's true that Trump wasn't nearly this bad about breaking debate rules in 2016. But he's been president for four years now; he may simply be more confident or less patient with anyone challenging him. At any rate, I don't think Trump's biggest problem is losing ground on policy, as bad as the pandemic is. It's that slightly more than half the nation opposes him, including some people who normally would consider voting for Republicans. I just don't see what he was offering those folks other than more of the same. 

1. Molly E. Reynolds and John Hudak on proposed House reforms.

2. Brendan Nyhan on how media norms fail in the face of Trump.

3. Here at Bloomberg Opinion, Lorena Gonzalez and Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda on one way to boost the economy.

4. Tim Murphy on Trump's whopper on insulin pricing

5. Grace Panetta on Trump's series of fictions about absentee voting.

6. Aaron Blake also on those lies.

7. And Billy Corriher on where court-packing is already happening

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