Counterpoint: Trump’s choice to skip this week’s “virtual” town hall debate was a mistake
When the news broke last week that President Donald Trump had flatly rejected the notion of participating in a “virtual” nationally televised town hall debate with Democrat nominee Joe Biden this upcoming Thursday, I, like many if not most of the incumbent’s supporters, found myself agreeing with his sentiments.
The potential for media manipulation was too great, I reasoned. The establishment journalism profession has gone to extreme lengths to spin a phony narrative of the 2020 contest, and this “debate” would constitute the ultimate prize for Trump’s detractors. Besides, a “remote” location for each candidate would presumably allow for too much local control. In Grampa Joe Biden’s case, he could conceivably juice himself up with performance enhancing medication, hidden ear pieces, prepared teleprompter soundbites and aides just out of camera view feeding him stage direction every second of the program.
And the questions from supposedly “normal” people? Think of the infamous “YouTube” debate in 2007, where the queries were delivered by ordinary citizens, but were also pretty darn biased. Remember? An animated “snowman” asked about “climate change.”
Biden’s act would contain more choreography than a Broadway stage show and turn the borderline senile, mentally slipping Democrat into a great orator rivaling the legendary Patrick Henry or Daniel Webster. A script is a script, after all, and judging by the absence of intellect of most Hollywood celebrities, it doesn’t take an overabundance of brain cells to deliver lines. And Grampa Joe would be reading them in real-time, too, so no memorization required!
It could be a disaster of epic proportions. But then again, Trump may be missing out on a historic opportunity to win over the last vestiges of America’s undecided voters. Emily Larsen wrote at The Washington Examiner, “President Trump’s knee-jerk refusal to participate in a virtual debate format is a gamble that could help Joe Biden run out the clock and ride his poll lead through Election Day on Nov. 3.
“Conventional campaign wisdom is that candidates lagging in the polls have more to gain from debates than those in the lead do. Trump lags nearly 10 points behind the former vice president and Democratic presidential nominee in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls and falls behind in nearly every average of polls in competitive states...
“’Trump should want a debate as soon as possible and as often as possible,’ said Alex Conant of the Republican firm Firehouse Strategies. ‘Not having a debate next week hurts only one campaign — the one that's losing… The only way he's going to make up ground is by getting voters to focus on Biden’s shortcomings. That's really hard to do without debates.’”
Take all Republican consultants’ advice with a grain of salt, but Conant makes a good point here. No one’s sure whether the polls accurately reflect public opinion -- here’s thinking they don’t -- but even the usually conservative slanted surveys show a tight race or Grampa Joe slightly ahead. Therefore, there are voters to be had and the president’s best messenger is himself.
Backing out or refusing to debate doesn’t exactly produce a positive feeling, either. To the casual observer, it almost looks like quitting or ceding ground. Now that Trump is recovering/has recovered from the dreaded Chinese Communist Party (CCP, or Wuhan, if you prefer) virus, even a “virtual” debate has the potential to show him as strong and virus-free. There isn’t a camera angle on earth that can portray Biden in any light that’s flattering. The man’s constant teeth gritting (when he isn’t cowering behind a mask) and angry expression betrays a politician running for president just for the perks.
The old saying goes, “The Show Must Go On.” It’s a shame Trump apparently doesn’t feel this way in this instance.
Besides, what does the president gain by skipping a nationally televised “debate,” even if it’s “virtual”? A few things, perhaps. He can maintain the assertion that Biden is a pre-programmed placeholder candidate who’s played on his phony nice-guy persona to approach the doorstep of the most sought-after job in the political world. Trump can also make the case that Biden’s a hypocrite for refusing to debate in a live in-person setting because of health reasons. If Trump is tested and proves to be “clean” of the CCP virus, what danger is there?
It seems clear Trump’s trying to make Biden look weak and afraid to debate, yet another sign of frailty and being unable to withstand the vigor of the campaign trail. It’s a common refrain for Trump to accuse his opponent of being feeble -- and that rival candidates can’t keep up with him physically. In 2016, there was “low energy” Jeb in the GOP primaries and Hillary Clinton’s persistent cough and lackluster trail presence. This is the opposite of Trump, who appears to have enough vitality for two competitors.
But “appearances” are just about the only reasons not to participate. Other than making Biden seem afraid of the virus and “chicken” to face him once again, there’s little else garnered from avoiding the “virtual” forum.
There’s nothing to fear in a “virtual” debate but fear itself
I may be one of the few conservatives in America who doesn’t believe Republicans necessarily suffer a whole lot from biased moderators and softball questions at these “forums” that are labeled “debates” but are really just opportunities for candidates to demonstrate they can handle pressure, arrange impromptu thoughts into coherent sentences, and, most importantly, come off as capable of handling the hardest job in the world.
No teleprompter can deliver a magic aura to Joe Biden, and it doesn’t really matter if he’s reading lines or stumbling and mumbling in a live ad-lib setting. If anything, his canned responses would expose his lack of a platform and the necessary presidential wherewithal, in addition to showing him as a plastic shill candidate who can’t tie his own shoes without someone providing instructions.
Moderators can and do make a difference in debates (see Crowley, Candy). We saw it two weeks ago with Chris Wallace, but it was Trump’s lack of discipline and restraint that turned people off, not Wallace’s stupid posturing and arrogant, one-sided grandstanding. A skilled politician, like Trump has proven to be, should be able to take any question and answer it in such a way to further his message. The president’s face-to-face time with the media has benefitted him more than it’s hurt him, even if the dumb-as-bricks Jim Acostas (of CNN) of the world get in their digs.
In essence, by deciding to skip a “virtual” town hall, Trump is yielding a priceless chance to re-emphasize his greatest argument for reelection: his accomplishments.
If Trump’s policies are preferable to Biden’s, which they are, rather than make this a purely political personality competition, there’s simply no reason to back out a week in advance. Donald Trump has a record to tout and defend. Joe Biden has three and a half decades of charter membership in the old boys’ club, known as the United States senate. He also has eight years serving as Barack Obama’s valet, where even his “friends” made jokes about his lack of gravitas.
Even if the “virtual” debate moderator cut Trump off at two minutes, that’s still two minutes he’d have to rationalize his policies and explain how his second term would be even better than his first. He could describe his administration’s response to the CCP virus. He could talk about the great pre-COVID economy and the ways his policies helped foster it. He could also do plenty of contrasting his pro-America orientation with the Democrats’ -- and Joe Biden’s -- “everyone’s a racist” offensive nonsense.
Even better, Trump could discuss his personal experience with COVID-19 and all the terrific treatments that are emerging under his administration’s guidance. He could reiterate his “don’t be afraid of the virus” message and make Biden look like a doddering dunce to keep insisting that everyone’s in danger of dying from it. He could call for a society-wide opening of the economy and contrast his approach with the mandatory mask wearing Grampa Joe.
Trump could do all these things, and explain them a lot better than his opponent would. Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Another Wisconsin city was assaulted and burned by rioters last week. What better way to talk about law and order, a winning Republican issue? Biden is beholden to his left-wing and the “protesters” are Joe Biden’s base. Trump could throw in a plug for Second Amendment rights, since gun sales are through the proverbial roof these days. Let Joe babble about his out-of-touch gun bans and dribble about random mass shootings and punishing gun manufacturers. It’s only lengthening the rope to hang his political prospects.
Lastly, Trump is losing a vital chance to reach more people before they vote. Over six million Americans have already cast ballots and countless millions more will vote before the next scheduled debate on October 22. There simply aren’t ways to reach more people on a single evening than in a debate, whether you’re staring the opposing guy straight in the eye or just dueling in front of remote cameras.
Trump will go down as one of the smartest and shrewdest politicians of our times. But here’s thinking he might’ve blown it on this one. If the strategy was to force Biden to come out of his bunker to campaign and talk about his policies in broad daylight (or moonlight?), this was a good way to do it, even if everyone’s just talking to a moderator at different locations.
Media freak-out over Trump administration COVID-19 positives was unwarranted
It almost seems like a distant memory now, but when President Trump announced that he and first lady Melania had tested positive for the CCP virus, a host of other administration officials were similarly afflicted.
Just to name a few, there was campaign manager Bill Stepien, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany and party chairman Rona McDaniel who also have/had the virus, as did a few Republican senators (such as Mike Lee) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who, because of his weight, would appear to occupy one of the most threatened categories.
(Note: Christie tweeted that he’d been released from the hospital on Saturday morning.)
None of these people engendered nearly the media attention that Trump’s treatment did. But if they’re truly sick and suffering, we haven’t heard about it either. If indeed, as it appears, that all have either recovered or are on their way to normalcy, doesn’t it further Trump’s contention that the condition isn’t worry-worthy and is treatable? Again, this isn’t saying there’s zero danger from contracting COVID-19, but it’s not the threat the Democrats hype it to be.
Trump’s campaign should make a video of these famous faces talking about their own experiences with the virus. What better way to demonstrate, once again, that Biden and his Democrat fearmongering party members are exploiting a fake narrative? The virus was much deadlier six months ago. Why not sell the message of “No Fear” to the wide audience now?
Why can some schools open without problems but others can’t because it’s too dangerous?
Yet another argument Trump could make in his favor regards reopening schools. Many private schools around the country have reopened with absolutely no COVID-19 related problems. If social distancing works for the for-profit sector, why not in the public setting too?
Darla M. Romfo wrote at The Hill, “Weeks into the new school year, many urban public schools serving some of our nation’s poorest children remain closed, continuing to educate remotely. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of inner city private schools opened weeks ago — and many are providing five-day-a-week live instruction.
“Private schools’ success in reopening proves that, contrary to the naysayers, it can be done. It also illustrates the creativity of the nation’s entrepreneurial sector, which includes these independent, nonprofit schools. The lesson: When you need to reopen to stay in business, you figure out a way to do it.”
The balance of Romfo’s piece highlighted the funding crisis many private schools that service low income families are experiencing due to stepped-up health demands. The coronavirus conundrum forced many of these institutions to spend money on PPE, cleaning and prevention measures. Yet still the institutions remain open and providing students in-person instruction.
With study after study showing there’s little or no risk to students, there’s simply no reason for schools to remain “virtual” or closed. The real damage here is loss of instruction and socialization, much greater than any hypothetical health risk to kids and teachers. “Virtual” learning isn’t working -- I know from experience. Who knows if “virtual” would be different for a presential debate.
Time will reveal whether it was a mistake for President Trump to opt-out of a “virtual” town hall debate with Joe Biden. There are good arguments for and against Trump’s decision to skip it. With three weeks to go until Election Day, and millions having already voted, Trump needs to take every opportunity to get his message out.
Vice President debate