Alan Zendell, October 1, 2020
After listening to Donald Trump for five years, we know how to interpret his words. They almost always mean the opposite of what they would if anyone else said them. Every time he accuses someone else of being flawed in some way, he projects his own insecurities and shortcomings. He’s been saying since the first presidential debate last Tuesday that he’s getting rave reviews for his performance.
In a typically Trump-spun version of the truth, he fails to mention that all those positive reviews are from his surrogates who are reading White House talking points. Everyone who watched that debate knows what actually happened. There was one loser and no winner. Unfortunately, the loser was the voting public. Just ask Trump’s two debate preppers.
Chris Christie, who sent Jared Kushner’s father to prison for two years in 2004, for what in Christie’s words was “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes” he ever prosecuted, and now has to sneak into the White House when Jared isn’t around, admitted that Trump came on much too strong and hurt himself. Christie opined that Trump might not be able to repair the damage. And legal lapdog Rudy Guiliani, who left his integrity in Central Park sometime in the 1990s and is never at a loss for words, has been silent.
Yesterday, when Trump claimed Joe Biden wouldn’t show up for the next debate, he was really telling us two entirely different things. One is that he desperately wants to avoid another face-to-face showdown himself. A public debate is the only setting in which he cannot spew lies without being called on them in real time in front of what turned out to be an audience of perhaps a billion people in 200 countries last Tuesday. The other, more important message was that he knows Biden has no reason to ever debate with him again, and he wants voters to think the former Vice President is afraid to.
As to the latter point, Trump’s premise is correct even as he lies and attempts to manipulate voters. Joe Biden has absolutely no reason to ever appear on a stage with Donald Trump again. Nothing good can possibly come from a second or third debate. If you’ve ever watched or participated in a real one, as opposed to the nonsense that passes for debates during political season, you know why. A debate can only be meaningful when both parties follow the rules and deal with facts and rational arguments. When either party acts like an out-of-control adolescent, the only possible result is chaos, which is exactly what Donald Trump intends.
I am concerned that Biden won’t heed that advice, because it is not his nature to back away from a confrontation. Moreover, it must be irresistible to be able to counter Trump’s lies as they come out of his mouth with everyone listening. I say, “Don’t waste your time, Joe. Engaging with Trump directly only dilutes your message.” Worse, like two kids fighting in a schoolyard, it never matters who threw the first punch. Once the mayhem is under way, they both look bad, and that is precisely why Trump behaves the way he does.
Speaking of schoolyards, in my mind I keep returning to Biden’s off the cuff taunt of Trump a few years back when he invited him to settle their differences the old-fashioned way the way bullies were dealt with in high school. Part of me would love to see that, but I digress.
The image of Biden on his COVID-sanitized Amtrak train doing whistle stops in Pennsylvania and Ohio was beautiful. For most of the next four weeks he should ignore Donald Trump completely and just ride that train back and forth between Philadelphia and Minneapolis. If he does that as COVID cases are surging in those states because of the criminal malfeasance of his opponent, he will sweep the rust belt, easily winning Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota, and will have a good chance of taking Ohio, at which point the fat lady will belt out “God Bless America” and we can begin recovering from the physical and moral sickness Trump has left us with.
Think FDR and Harry Truman. If Biden intersperses train stops with flights to Georgia, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Nevada, he can achieve a Reagan-style landslide, with the Senate riding his coattails. That’s exactly what the country needs right now. It will enable the strong guiding hand of a decent leader who genuinely cares about people to get us back on track, and maybe even start to heal the partisan divide by example.
Please, Joe. No more debates.