How Joe Biden might avoid debating Trump

It’s a highly uncomfortable subject for Democrats and their media allies, but it’s also a glaringly obvious truth. Nobody supporting Joe Biden wants to see him go into a debate with Donald Trump. Biden can barely manage reading a teleprompter in front of a camera in his own basement these days, even if he has multiple chances to get the words right. And his “aw, shucks” Uncle Joe routine probably won’t look very impressive when he has to answer a barbed attack. The fact is that Trump is just 100% Trump every minute he’s on camera. This has many liberals frightened of the prospect of a presidential debate between these two. That’s particularly true of Thomas Friedman. In a recent column at the New York Times, Friedman provides some refreshing honesty in saying that he really doesn’t want to see Biden have to go toe-to-toe with Trump and he’s come up with a plan to avoid this pending disaster.

I worry about Joe Biden debating Donald Trump. He should do it only under two conditions. Otherwise, he’s giving Trump unfair advantages.

First, Biden should declare that he will take part in a debate only if Trump releases his tax returns for 2016 through 2018. Biden has already done so, and they are on his website. Trump must, too. No more gifting Trump something he can attack while hiding his own questionable finances.

And second, Biden should insist that a real-time fact-checking team approved by both candidates be hired by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates — and that 10 minutes before the scheduled conclusion of the debate this team report on any misleading statements, phony numbers or outright lies either candidate had uttered. That way no one in that massive television audience can go away easily misled.

It was a valiant effort, Tom, but you’ve fallen well short of the mark. All Friedman has done here is put into words what most of the Democrats are already thinking. Forcing Joe Biden to try to debate Donald Trump is a disaster waiting to happen and it must be avoided at all costs. But Friedman is smart enough to realize that just having Biden refuse to debate is a losing play. It just makes it obvious that he’s afraid and worried that Trump will make him look like a fool. (It’s a valid concern, to be fair.)

So if Biden can’t afford to bail out on his own, Friedman is looking to get the Commission on Presidential Debates to do Joe’s dirty work for him. Change the rules in such a way that Trump will either pull out on his own by failing to qualify or potentially hand Biden an unexpected pile of information to attack the President with at the last moment. It would almost be an admirably clever scam if it weren’t so obvious.

The Commission has been using the same sets of rules (with minor modifications for fine-tuning) for ages. As Friedman rightly points out, the debates do have ground rules. But they are consistent ground rules that affect all candidates equally and don’t put a thumb on the scale for the most part. If they turn around and introduce new rules that have never been in place before, just because Donald Trump is one of the players involved, they will make it obvious that the supposedly nonpartisan process has been hijacked and turned to the favor of the Democrats.

No debate participant in the past has ever been forced to release their tax returns as a condition of participation because releasing tax returns isn’t a legal requirement to run. Most candidates have traditionally done so, but that was their own choice. It’s left up to the public as to whether or not that is a large enough consideration to affect their decision at the ballot box. Candidates have also traditionally posed for photos while they kiss babies on the campaign trail. That doesn’t mean that five baby-kissing pictures should be a requirement to take to the podium at the debates. (Particularly with the novel coronavirus hanging around.)

As to the idea that there should be some sort of “nonpartisan fact-checking team” on hand to fact-check everything the candidates say in real-time and spit out their results near the end of the debate, that’s the sort of malarkey I’d normally only expect to hear from a lying, dog-face pony soldier. Nearly every fact-checker you’ll find working the political beat is consistently more “energetic” in checking what one side says over the other. And fact-checking anything takes time if you’re going to do a thorough job and provide links to all of your references. Expecting them to do any sort of thorough, competent job as the candidates freestyle their way through the questions and put it all together for an expose with ten minutes left in the event is a fantasy.

Of course, Friedman doesn’t really want a blue-ribbon fact-checking panel in any event. First of all, Biden’s odds of being able to keep all of his facts straight during a high-pressure, late evening event like this are probably slim to none at this point. And besides, what he’s really looking for is something else that Trump might refuse to agree to as an excuse to disqualify him.

This is all nonsense, amounting to nothing more than a desperate attempt to keep Joe Biden off the stage and protect him from himself. Trump and the RNC should insist on the same rules that have been used in the past and just get on with the show. If the debates are to be abandoned, make Joe Biden flee the field in fear. It’s only fair.