A bona fide strategic dilemma. Before the second debate was canceled, I was inclined to say that Biden should do all three. That’s the only way he can settle the doubts about whether he’s up to the job mentally. Get in the ring with Trump, try not to do any needless damage to yourself, and trust that the president isn’t a nimble enough debater to do any real damage to you.
But the shift in the polls towards Biden after Trump’s performance at the first debate and his COVID diagnosis a few days later arguably changes the game. With Americans moving towards Biden and the clock running down, why on earth would Sleepy Joe run another play and give Trump a chance, however unlikely, to force a turnover? If there were still lingering doubts about Biden’s mental fitness, presumably his national lead wouldn’t be expanding right now. It’d be frozen, contingent upon another one or two solid debate performances. Maybe Biden convinced Americans of his fitness at the first debate. And if not, it’s not like he’ll be completely out of the public eye in the next few weeks. He’s doing a 90-minute town hall with voters on ABC on Thursday night in lieu of the debate and doubtless will hold some other event at which he’ll take questions if he backs out of the third debate on October 22.
There’s only one intriguing argument in favor of Biden taking Trump on again. Namely, the president could do himself further damage, compounding the self-sabotage at the first debate. If you think there’s a greater chance of Trump screwing up than Biden screwing up — and there probably is — then it makes sense for Biden to do it.