Will he or won’t he? That question reverberated in political and media circles about whether Joe Biden would show up for last night’s presidential debate, or find a pretext on which to cancel them. The subtext of that question was whether Biden was up for a 90-minute or two-hour debate with Donald Trump, or anyone, given his incredibly light schedule and increasingly common gaffes.
The same question arose after last night’s debate, but for other reasons. Biden’s deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told reporters last night after the event that Biden would be back for the next two debates. However, the campaign wants to reopen negotiations with the presidential debate commission over the rules after last night’s slugfest:
.@KBeds on the next debates: "Joe Biden’s going to show up. He's going to continue speaking directly to the American people." She added later that there ongoing discussions with debate commission, and "I would imagine there would be some additional conversations" after tonight.
— Mike Memoli (@mikememoli) September 30, 2020
I bet there will be. That itself suggests that the Biden team wasn’t all that secure about Biden’s overall performance, nor should they be. Even if one thinks that Trump lost the debate — and there’s an arguable position for that — it’s not because Biden won it. He just happened to be on stage and make it to the end while Trump went too negative and got in his own way too often.
With that said, one has to wonder why Bedingfield and Team Biden would bother with another debate, let alone two more. Biden really only needed to accomplish one task last night and in this cycle — remain engaged for 90 minutes and show he can stay on his feet and on offense on the same stage as Donald Trump. Whatever else took place last night, and at times it seemed like a kitchen-sink debate where everything else took place, Biden succeeded in his primary task of not falling down.
What else is there left to prove? Biden and his team might calculate that they and the “moderators” can get Trump to say some damaging things in these debates, and that might be true. Of course, Trump can do that without debates, and there’s an almost equal risk for Biden on that same score … theoretically, anyway. His declaration that he won’t take a position on court-packing lest it become an issue in the election was one of the worst dodges in a presidential debate, maybe ever. Biden’s declaration that “the party is me” was also rather risible, especially since he then disclaimed any blame for what his party does or advocates. In a media world with more objectivity, as Jazz noted earlier, Biden’s honesty and integrity would be getting more scrutiny this morning along with Trump’s.
Even if the risk is not the same, neither is the reward. Getting back on stage with Trump changes the expectations game from will Biden fall asleep to will Biden take positions and what are they. It allows Trump to tune his game a bit better, or at least have the opportunity to do so and correct the impression left from this debate. What’s the upside for Biden in a second debate, let alone two more?
At this point, it would be better for Biden to get back to the bunker in which he’s spent most of the month. Speaking of which, this was for me the hands-down funniest moment last night, and a real missed opportunity for Trump to offer the obvious counterpunch: “If you weren’t going to sleep at 9:30 am every day, Joe, you’d have seen me.”
Joe Biden: "You should get out of your bunker and get out of the sand trap in your golf course and go in the Oval Office and bring together the Democrats and Republicans and fund what needs to be done now to save lives." #Debates2020 pic.twitter.com/kp0PApj2e0
— The Hill (@thehill) September 30, 2020