Sunday, June 23, 2024

Will Trump debate?


The first presidential debate is scheduled to take place next Thursday, June 27 at 9:00 pm Eastern time. The debate will televised on CNN from the network’s studios in Atlanta. For those without cable access to CNN, the debate will also be streamed on

In recent days, however, something interesting has happened. I’ve started seeing a lot of speculation that the debate won’t happen.


There is probably speculation among MAGAland that President Biden won’t debate, but most of what I’ve been hearing questions whether Donald Trump will show up. There are real reasons to think that he won’t.

Neither candidate debated in their respective primary, but Trump’s reasons were different from Biden’s. In the Democratic primary, there was no serious competition. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. dropped out before the primaries began and Dean Phillips, who ended his campaign in March, was never a serious contender.

On the Republican side, however, a series of challengers posed serious threats to Trump’s campaign. In 2023, Ron DeSantis often led in the polls and Nikki Haley won large shares of Republican primary voters and two primaries. Democrats didn’t have primary debates, but Republicans did and Trump did not show up.

It’s easy to see why Trump avoided debating. He didn’t need to, although it was a calculated risk early in the campaign.

As it turned out, debating could have only hurt Trump. As I pointed out earlier this week, Trump has a propensity for saying nonsensical things, not to mention advancing ludicrous ideas like a 10 percent across-the-board tax on all imports. The faithful ignore or even applaud these sound bites, but to undecided and uninformed voters, Trump is somewhat of a blank slate on which they project their own desires and dissatisfaction with Joe Biden.

The problem is that Trump is no longer the blank slate that he was in 2016. He’s a known quantity in 2024. It’s easy to see what Trump is if you look, but Republicans don’t want voters to look at Trump. They want to keep the focus on Joe Biden.

A debate would put the focus back on Trump, and typically, when Americans take a close look at Trump, they don’t like what they see.

For example, many world leaders gained approval for their reactions to the pandemic. Trump was among the few who did not. Trump’s daily briefings put him front and center to a nation that had little else to do but watch him. In short order, Trump was looking much less competent than Drs. Birx and Fauci after making statements such as his suggestion that “injection inside” of “disinfectant” should be considered. I’m pretty sure that the Republican war on Dr. Fauci began when the good doctor started getting better polling numbers than Trump.

Trump may also chafe under this year’s debate rules. Among the conditions agreed to by both sides are no studio audience and muted microphones. This won’t sit well with Trump, a man who seems to feed off the energy of the crowd and who likes to interrupt and keep his opponents off balance with insults.

The flip side is that these rules may end up helping Trump. The Former Guy’s boorish behavior is a major turnoff for those outside his base so the attempts to make him behave may have the result of making him look more mature and disciplined.

Strategically speaking, Trump’s position in the general election is similar to his position in the Republican primary. The Former Guy holds a narrow lead in national and most swing state polling (although new polling shows Biden has overtaken Trump in Michigan and Wisconsin). Putting him in front of the county is probably more likely to hurt than help.

For Biden, the situation is reversed. Republicans are heavily invested in attacks on Biden’s mental fitness. Getting Biden in front of the country and showing that he is lucid and competent would be a boon to his campaign. A smooth debate performance is worth a thousand cheapfake internet videos… if the debate happens and people tune in. From this perspective, it makes strategic sense for Donald Trump to take his lumps for bowing out of the debate to preserve the illusion that Biden is a dementia patient.

But wouldn’t Trump be hurt by not debating? He wouldn’t be hurt with his base or the Republican crowd who will vote for anyone with an (R) after their name over any “Demonrat.” He could claim it was due to his gag order or because of his ongoing legal cases, and his supporters would eat it up.

However, it would be a calculated risk that he would turn off fewer voters by not debating than he would lose to Biden if he did debate. And don’t forget that the voters who decide elections are the late deciders who are least politically tuned in and who probably won’t be watching the debate anyway.

As I’ve said in the past, a big reason for Biden’s unpopularity is that he has made Democratic progressives angry because he’s too conservative. I don’t mean that Biden is a True Conservative™, but he is conservative by Democratic standards.

Another thing I’ve pointed out repeatedly is that nothing unites Democrats like Donald Trump. If Trump shows up to debate, he runs the risk of reminding Democrats why they elected Joe Biden in the first place.

Those national polling numbers include about nine percent for RFKJR. If alienated progressives see Trump and realize that he is within a whisker of winning the presidency again because progressives are staying home again, there may be a rapid movement away from RFK and back to Biden.

I’m not predicting that Trump won’t show up to debate, but I do think that the odds are pretty good that he won’t. Among those who agree is James Carville.

Speaking on MSNBC, Carville said, “If I was a gambler — and I am a gambler — I'd take even money that Trump doesn't show up.”

“I think he's gonna wake up and decide, just like he said he was going to testify in the defense of his trial. He didn't even put on a defense,” Carville added.

Trump will probably show up because Trump is a poster child for the Dunning-Kruger effect and badly overestimates his own competence and charm, but like Carville, if I could place a bet on a no-show, I’d take it and maybe reap some profits from the long shot. I even checked the political betting sites but didn’t see the option.

I’d also be willing to bet that Trump and his surrogates will work to downplay expectations for Trump’s performance and raise the bar for Biden ahead of the debate, even if that means temporarily downplaying concerns about Biden’s mental state. To some extent, this is already happening with Trump’s allegations that Biden will do cocaine before their confrontation. (I am not making this up, but as far as I know, cocaine is not a cure for dementia, even on a temporary basis.)

I’ll also go out on a limb and predict that the winner of the debate will be Joe Biden among the Democrats and Donald Trump among the Republicans, even if he doesn’t debate. The cottage industry that is Republican punditry has yet to find anything, including felony convictions, that is bad news for Trump. Not showing up to debate won’t faze them.

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PUTIN’S WAR ON CHRISTIANITY: The WSJ recently had an interesting piece on Russian persecution of the evangelical church in Temporarily Occupied Ukraine. This flies in the face of Putinophile claims that the Russian dictator is an anti-woke defender of the faith and that it is Ukraine that is cracking down on freedom of religion. NPR ran a similar report last month. I was not aware that Ukraine had emerged as a center for evangelism in the post-Soviet days.

ISRAEL GETTING MEDIEVAL: I’ve kind of abandoned the Tweet of the Day, but here’s a good one. Israeli forces were recently spotted using a medieval trebuchet catapult against Hezbollah.

From the Racket News

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