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Republicans No Longer Want To Debate-- Not Each Other, Not Democrats... American Voters Lose Out

Updated: Apr 19

Dummies Are Always Afraid To Debate

Who needs debates when you have a show like this? (Drawing by Nancy Ohanian)

Generally speaking, debates have been all but mandated for elections in this country. Frontrunners might prefer not to do them but they do because voters have demanded them. That's changing now-- first with the GOP. If candidates don't want to debate, either because they're way ahead or because they know their debate opponent will make mincemeat out of them-- they can just start screaming nonsense about Trump and GOP activists and voters-- especially the kinds who vote in primaries-- will drool on themselves a little and then shake their heads sagely and move along to Hunter Biden's computer.


Take the North Carolina Senate race. Schumer has found himself a would-be Kyrsten Sinema '22 but with zero chance of winning so the Republicans know that whomever wins the nomination can start measuring teh drapes. theirs is a vicious primary with some from-runner see-sawing but it appears now that unaccomplished Trumpist kook Ted Budd has pulled ahead of former Governor Pat "bathroom bill" McCory and another far right lunatic Mark Walker. Budd refuses to debate. He is, wrote Bryan Anderson, "testing a tactic that circumvents one of the traditional ways voters get to know candidates. By avoiding debates, the congressman has made a strategic bet that campaign events and millions of dollars in advertisements will be enough to secure his victory. With the May 17 primary election one month away, Budd hasn’t set foot on a debate stage. He has avoided or not agreed to participate in at least four debates. It’s a choice that reflects a growing national trend, as high-profile candidates in other U.S. Senate races also show a reluctance to participate... Political analysts say the avoidance strategy protects candidates from being outmatched by an underdog or from unforced gaffes that might end up in political attack ads."


Budd has more to lose than his competitors. He possesses a 10-point lead over McCrory, according to a WRAL News poll released last week. And his top opponents are polished speakers, each equipped to close the gap on the debate floor. McCrory hosted a popular talk radio show after his 2016 gubernatorial reelection defeat. And former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker was a pastor for 16 years.
...For much of the 2022 election cycle, Budd had said he wouldn’t entertain the conversation of a debate until candidate filing ended, which it did on March 3. He then adjusted his tone, noting he’d be open to debating but would consider his options.
More than a month later, Budd has ascended in the polls with help from sizable outside spending and endorsements from the state’s top Republican executive officeholder, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and former President Donald Trump, the de facto leader of the Republican Party nationally.
...Some political observers don’t foresee any damage to Budd over his lack of participation at such events given the endorsements he’s received and high-profile backers of his campaign.

In a column for Bloomberg News this morning-- Is This the End for Presidential Debates?-- Jonathan Bernstein noted that the RNC, which is controlled by Trump, wants to abolish presidential debates entirely. Since the GOP is on the wrong side of virtually every substantive issue most Americans not in MAGA/QAnon world care about, why get up on stage and look like a piker?


David Frum also tackled the topic this morning: The End of Presidential Debates, noting that "Only those conversant with the pro-Trump right’s internal myths and legends can decipher the Republican National Committee’s vote on Thursday to boycott the Commission on Presidential Debates in 2024. During the 2020 debates, many people saw then-President Donald Trump abuse his opponent, the moderators, and the rules. But in the Trump Cinematic Universe, Trump was victimized by the unfair mainstream media, a group expanded to include Chris Wallace, a nearly two-decade star of Fox News’s Sunday-morning show."


In the first scheduled debate, September 29 at Case Western University, non-TCU fans saw Trump ignore timekeeping in order to shout at and hector his opponent, Joe Biden. Non-TCU fans saw Wallace, the moderator, struggle to enforce the rules, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. TCU fans saw a macho, virile Trump exposing the physical and mental deterioration of Biden, who would have been knocked out of the debate but for the unfair interventions of Wallace to protect Biden from his own feebleness.
A second debate was scheduled for October 15. On October 2, the Trump White House announced that Trump had contracted COVID-19, as had Melania Trump, the senior Trump aide Hope Hicks, and many other staffers and Trump associates. Trump was most probably infected at the crowded, maskless event in the Rose Garden to announce the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. That event was held September 26, three days before the first debate, meaning that Trump was very likely infectious when he debated Biden, but he had concealed his health condition from the debate moderators, his opponent, and the public.
We now know that Trump became so sick that aides feared he might require a ventilator. That fact was not disclosed at the time either. Instead, Trump emerged from the hospital on October 5 and demanded to proceed with the October 15 debate.
Trump wanted some changes to the format...
The debate commission faced demands from Trump to change the part of the negotiated October 15 debate that he did not like, the moderator, while preserving the part that he did like, the format. It decided instead that holding an in-person debate nine days after Trump had left the hospital would violate CDC guidelines, which then required two weeks of quarantine after a COVID bout. The committee proposed a virtual debate instead. Trump canceled.
Non-TCU fans were horrified by Trump’s COVID behavior, which was so reckless it almost qualified as sociopathic. TCU fans perceived the committee brazenly intervening to protect Biden from certain defeat.
A third debate had been scheduled for October 22, at Belmont University in Tennessee. Originally, that debate had been intended to deal exclusively with foreign-policy questions. Because of the cancellation of the second debate, however, the moderator Kristin Welker also covered some of the ground that had been missed: race, climate change, and leadership, as well as national security. The committee also equipped Welker with a “Mute” button so that she could turn off Trump’s microphone if he again overstepped his time or otherwise broke the rules that his campaign had agreed to.
Non-TCU fans watched a more subdued Trump in this Belmont debate, still perhaps convalescing from a very serious illness. TCU fans angrily denounced a successful media operation to contain and suppress Trump, and were aggravated by a rigged refusal to ask questions about Biden’s son Hunter, in their minds the potentially decisive issue in the final days of the 2020 campaign.
In the months since the 2020 election, fans and nonfans of the TCU have continued to disagree about the nature of reality and the structure of the universe. Even where the TCU and non-TCU perceptions overlap-- everybody can attest that gas and food prices are rising-- the narrative lines do not. The TCU blames a deliberate plot by Biden Marxists; the non-TCU references a global supply shock caused by the pandemic and compounded by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
You might think that a presidential debate would be the place to hash out such differences. But what the RNC is saying with its vote is, Unless we know in advance that a debate moderator believes in the same version of reality as we do, we will not participate at all. The only people who are unbiased are the people who already agree with us.
In 2020, the debate commission tried to meet Republican demands by carefully balancing moderator choices: Fox News’s own premier interviewer, a rising star at NBC, plus a down-the-line straight arrow from C-SPAN. That even this lineup left Trump supporters with a burning feeling of injustice indicates the problem for 2024. The TCU has become such a closed place that it feels, to its inhabitants, like the entirety of the universe. It’s telling that one of the angriest grievances about the 2020 debates was about Welker’s “Mute” button. From a TCU perspective, what could better symbolize everything wrong with America than a woman journalist silencing Trump when he wants to keep talking?
Debate organizers may now try to appease the RNC, but the effort may well only make an already tense situation worse. If you believe that Chris Wallace is biased against Republicans, whom would you regard as an acceptable alternative? Joe Rogan? Tucker Carlson? Alex Jones? Russian state TV’s Vladimir Solovyov? Maybe the only way to satisfy TCU fans is to just let Trump interview himself for 90 minutes, to be followed by a panel applauding Trump and ridiculing his rival?
...One of the defining features of the TCU is that its fans are not all that interested in political issues per se. TCU fandom is about political representation: how issues are described, how issues are perceived. That’s why “the media” is such a powerful target in TCU discourse, never mind the obvious paradox that the TCU is itself a media creation. The core grievance is, “I don’t like what I’m hearing and seeing in the external world beyond the special enclave I inhabit.” That grievance will not be allayed by reasonable compromises by the Commission on Presidential Debates. It will be allayed only by converting the presidential debates themselves into another protected space unsullied by non-TCU content. Such a “solution” would of course destroy the whole enterprise.
Maybe this country would be better served by a presidential-debate pause in 2024. Instead of debating the nature of reality, let’s test reality, by letting each party talk about what it wants to talk about, how it wants to, where it wants to, as much as it wants to, and then seeing what happens next. If it turns out that the TCU is as compelling as its fans insist, then we’ll all have to learn to accommodate it, just as religious minorities defer to majority customs that they find false or absurd. If, however, the TCU does not meet the reality test, then perhaps at last it will be time for its fans to put aside the comics and watch something intended for grown-ups.

I asked some of the Blue America-endorsed candidates about their own experiences with debates. Washington progressive Jason Call told me that "Democratic incumbents also avoid internal debates from progressives as a matter of course. In this political climate, they know their corporate funded positions that are anti-working class, anti-environment, anti-healthcare are not popular, so it does them no good to put themselves in a position where they can be compared and contrasted in a head to head situation. In 2020, fossil fuel and war machine funded WA-02 incumbent Rick Larsen avoided any mention of my challenge, even when I was in the room with him, and he’s done the same this year. In fact he was offered an opportunity to join an endorsement forum with me for a local legislative district, and he declined. I honestly can’t wait to be on the general ballot after the August 2 primary, where he will be all but forced into that public debate with a progressive, something he’s been able to avoid for over 20 years."


State Sen. Vincent Fort, the progressive challenging Blue Dog David Scott-- who the DC media has reported is quite senile-- challenged Scott to a series of 6 debates, one in each county of the district. At the time, Fort told the media that "It is time he is held accountable for the corruption that has permeated his tenure in Congress. It is no wonder Scott has been tagged as the Joe Manchin of Georgia. David Scott has been absent from the district for years avoiding his constituents like the plague. He should know that he can run but he can’t hide. Scott should show up and defend his horrendous record." This afternoon, he told me that "David Scott has been missing in action for several years, long before the covid pandemic. He neglects his constituents. He was not at a candidate forum that was held a week ago. Then I challenged him to a series of six debates, one in each county in the district. He has not responded... The thirteenth district needs someone who cares about the needs of the people who live there. You can't represent people well if you don't care about them... Scott, like his Republican friends, is trying to hide from his constituents. He knows how bad he'll look if he tries to defend the indefensible, such as collaborating with payday lenders, voting for tax cuts for the rich, and deregulating predatory lenders."


By clicking here, you can contribute to the grassroots campaigns campaigns being run by Vincent, Jason, Jamie McLeod-Skinner and Shervin Aazami, who just told me that he has "challenged Brad Sherman to a debate multiple times, and he has refused. When in-district organizations invited Brad to participate in candidate forums for the purposes of making endorsements, he failed to show up (and we got the endorsements). Last September I confronted him in person at an event hosted by a local union urging him to join a debate so that our voters can hear directly from all of their candidates. He bluntly said that he 'debates in the Fall' and then turned his back to me."


Jamie McLeod-Skinner is taking on wretched Blue Dog Kurt Schrader, the last Democrat remaining in the House who voted against raising the minimum wage-- and who also voted against lowering the cost of prescription drugs. You can imagine how much he doesn't want to get up on a debate state. Jamie told me that he "backed out of a virtual debate he'd agreed to, organized by the Central Oregon City Club and the League of Women Voters-- they are continuing with just me. We've got an in-person TV debate scheduled for Wednesday... we'll see if he pulls out. Voters deserve to have representatives who show up."



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