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I started the day gloomily thinking that last night’s debate was worse than useless. I’ve changed my mind.
Trump is Trump. He wins as Trump. He loses as Trump. If all his accomplishments (the astonishing progress made in bringing peace to the freakin’ Middle East?!) are not enough to persuade Never Trumpers, nothing Trump could’ve said or done last night would’ve done the trick. Had he conducted himself last night with peaceable, statesmanlike civility, he would have gained nothing but the startled alarm of viewers thinking they were watching a man having a stroke.
Trump should not try to appear to be other than he is and, anyhow, he can’t.
This is actually a huge advantage for the GOP, hard as that can be to remember. Pretending to be other than you are, even for a practiced liar, is hard work. Not only does Biden have to think carefully about which lies he is telling to what audience, his handlers have to monitor and remember too. They don’t just have to spin Biden’s gaffes, they often have to spin them in both directions at the same time.
“No, he’s not going to implement the Green New Deal/of course he’s going to implement the Green New Deal!” “Joe Biden loves America for all her flaws!/ Joe knows that this country is systemically racist!” et cetera, et-exhaustingly-cetera.
Contrary to popular belief, conservatives are a lot more tolerant than prog-lefties. Trump has latitude a Democrat could only dream of. Religious social conservatives cut him some slack on his sins, fiscal conservatives aren’t savagely attacking him for not tackling the deficit and, however much the Never Trumpers loathe Trump, he isn’t leading a party in which a significant minority has proven itself eager to, and I quote, “burn the system to the ground.” Expletives deleted.
Moderates mostly dislike Trump because Trump is Trump, and also because of abortion. This is why Never Trumpers get along so nicely with moderate Democrats; they basically are moderate Democrats. That’s not an insult–I was a moderate Democrat myself once. I get it.
The alt-left is very different. Disgruntled Bernie Bros, critical-theorists, identitarians, wanna-be dismantlers of Western culture, 1619 anti-racists … they have soaked the discursive landscape in gasoline and are standing by, matches lit, waiting for Biden to say the wrong thing. There are many, many wrong things.
The Biden campaign has obviously decided the best strategy is for him to avoid saying…anything. That way, voters can project onto him whatever they most want to believe. If you’re a rational, pragmatic moderate who longs for civility…so is Biden! If you’re AOC and Co., Biden’s just a puppet who, thanks to his own and Jill’s overweening ambition, can be manipulated into turning America into a Woke-Socialist Utopia.
There were some openings that, in my humble opinion, Trump missed. For instance, Biden’s “you’ve been in the bunker” jab (a golf thing) could so easily have been met with “Where have you been, Joe? You’ve been in the basement all summer long!” and then have called Chris Wallace to witness: “Chris, didn’t I talk with you, on the record, for two hours in the hot sun? Why hasn’t Joe done a two-hour interview with you?”
The “nobody goes to Biden’s events” was fine, but it’s not just that nobody goes to Biden’s campaign events; it’s that he doesn’t have them. Again, not (just) because he’s old, frail, gaffe-prone, and incoherent, though he’s all of that and more, but also because the campaign can’t afford to have him saying anything. To anyone.
It’s not (just) that Biden is a liar. Of course, he is. His problem–the Democrat’s problem–is that his candidacy consists of one truth and two lies. “I’m not Trump” (true), plus lies that not only directly contradict each other, but must somehow be told, convincingly, to two groups who share the same metaphorical and sometimes physical space: moderate, longing-for-normalcy Democrats, and the Alt-Left.
Of the two major factions, the moderates are marginally more flexible. They find Biden’s old shtick–“working-class Joe”–comforting. The alt-left? Well, “working-class Joe” doesn’t fly with people who don’t even know what a “lunch bucket” is, and for whom the term “working man” conjures privileged, oppressive white male construction workers (which is to say, ick).
The alt-left is not interested in The Workers, only in The Marginalized. In their worldview, there is no room for compromise and no grace for error. Joe Biden is already a Rich Old White Male. He can be useful…but he is despised. And if he strays too far from what the Alt-Left considers to be The Truth, they will abandon him and his expedient strategy of [temporary! Only temporary!] accommodation, and burn the system to the ground, or at least singe it around the edges.
Given all of that, the best thing that happened last night was that Biden was forced to say something–anything. He had to say something about the Green New Deal. He did not endorse it. Biden was forced to say something about law enforcement. He expressed lukewarm, ineffectual support.
Ironically or perhaps poetically, given that the left has made all speech, all debate, all dialectic dangerous … it is Biden, not Trump, who has to walk on eggshells. It is dangerous for Biden to speak. At all. Everyone in the Democratic coalition has good reason to be deeply suspicious of Biden, and to be alert for signs that he will betray them (which he will, in an arhythmic heartbeat).
In a just and rational world, Chris Wallace would’ve asked Biden when he completed a program in anti-racism training and what he learned. That’s not going to happen, but the next time Biden brings up anything to do with race (which he shall), Trump should ask Biden this. Or even just ask Biden if he–Biden–is a racist. As in “Joe, you’re a rich old white guy just like me. Are you racist?” Then he should (if he can) close his mouth and let Biden talk.
He can’t say anything. Even if his brain was working properly, it would not be able to produce the right answer because there isn’t one.
The debates aren’t about policies and plans. The debates are about debate–about who gets to have and express an opinion and why. Race, privilege, speech itself…these aren’t land mines in the ground, they are the ground, plowed, cultivated, planted, and guarded by the people who will…or won’t...vote for Biden. Not only for the sake of his campaign, but for the sake of the country, Trump should force Biden onto that ground, keep him there, and keep him talking.Published in