Ray D’Cruz, Founder, Election Debates
The second presidential debate has been cancelled, and few people will be disappointed.
The first debate was chaotic and lacking in substance: a neat encapsulation of four years of chaos and division. In just 90-minutes, before 75m Americans, President Trump showed why he’s temperamentally and comprehensively unfit for office.
So, who are the winners and losers from a cancelled second debate?
Trump. Trump loses for two reasons. First, he’s trailing and needs to turn the focus on his opponent. Biden has vulnerabilities, but Trump seems incapable of focussing on Biden for a prolonged period and incapable of mounting a cogent set of arguments against the Democrats. The second debate was one of his few remaining chances. This was an opportunity lost before 60m Americans.
Second, Trump loses because the cancelled debate once again focuses attention on his personal inability to manage his own health and the Covid-19 crisis. Every reference to the cancelled debate is a reference his incompetence. The debate would not have been cancelled if the pandemic had been better controlled and if Trump had not been so careless.
There is an argument to be made that his refusal to debate might be a mitigation strategy. Trump was appalling in the first debate. While the debate was poor, it still managed to expose Trump as temperamentally unfit to govern. Beyond that debate, and since his Covid diagnosis, his behaviour has been even more erratic and concerning. Cutting their losses and running might be the only viable strategy for the Trump campaign right now.
The CPD. The Commission for Presidential Debates (CPD) has lost its credibility. It failed to create a safe workplace in the first debate. Despite the Cleveland Clinic mandating masks, Trump’s family shunned the rules and the CPD did nothing about it. Now Trump shuns the debate and they fold meekly. The CPD also failed to condemn Trump’s behaviour from the first debate, issuing a weak statement in response. The CPD describes itself as non-partisan, but its bipartisan. It was founded by Republican and Democratic parties to wrest control of the debates from the original sponsors: The League of Women Voters. The CPD board is comprised almost entirely of former Republican and Democratic operatives. It’s inability to stand up for debate, generate real policy debate, enforce rules and safety and denunciate poor behaviour make it a loser.
The people. Despite the anarchy of the first debate, it was revealing. For any voter still undecided, it underlined Trump’s lack of discipline, rudeness, extremism and authoritarianism. If the purpose of debates is to inform voters, then this was highly informative in relation to character – just not policy.
And the winners?
Just one: Biden. No frontrunner wants to debate and risk something going wrong before so many people so close to an election. In the past evasive front runners have been heckled for ‘chickening out’. But in this situation Trump is being labelled the chicken. Biden wins the debate without having to turn up or risk a thing – the perfect result for him.