Notorious gaslighter Thomas Friedman (who once claimed Christopher Columbus discovered that the world was round) recently argued in the pages of the New York Times that a debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden would be unfair. His reason? Tax returns.
With riots, economic crisis, and coronavirus on Americans' minds, no reasonable person thinks that personal finances are going to play a crucial role in this year's debates. Friedman is obviously trolling. He knows that the unfairness of the debates really stems from disparate cognitive ability. But he, like many in the Democratic Party, are desperate to give Biden an excuse to avoid the debate stage. Or, alternatively, if presidential debate is inevitable, they hope to ensure that Biden steps out onto the stage with as many crutches as humanly possible. That brings me to Friedman's second excuse for Biden.
The most notorious event from the 2012 presidential debates—an event which cracked the mainstream media's (and especially CNN's) faux-objectivity—was when Candy Crowley inserted herself into Obama-Romney presidential debate with a real-time fact-check against Republican candidate Mitt, which was false. For Thomas Friedman, her mistake shouldn't be seen as an accident, but rather as precedent. He insists that the mainstream media follow Crowley's example, inserting real-time "fact-checks" into 2020 debates. Did I say "fact-checks"? Of course, what they really mean to insert is not facts, but any Democratic talking-points that somehow managed to slip Joe Biden's ailing mind.
For most Americans, it is simply a given that President Trump will wipe the floor with Joe Biden in a debate. That is why Democrats like Friedman are hedging. It's also why conservatives are eager for a debate to take place. This eagerness is a mistake. No, it's not a mistake because Biden might win. Neither is it because beating up on defenseless ol' Joe might look like cruel and unusual punishment. Conservatives are mistaken because Trump's victory cannot possibly live up to our collective expectations. What the American People already assume debate would look like is likely far worse than the reality. If Biden merely holds his own on the stage, that would raise the public perception of Biden's competence by an order of magnitude.
It wouldn't matter one iota how many crutches Joe Biden leaned on to achieve his moderate-success. Any conservative whining about unfairness—about Biden-friendly moderators picking up the slack when he fumbles, questions being fed to Biden before the debate, wide camera shots that intentionally miss Biden's dentures falling out—will look like weakness from the Trump camp. Excuses will have zero effect on media narratives. Mainstream outlets are already primed to spin whatever happens into a close, toe-to-toe debate tie, and follow it up by endlessly "fact-checking" Trump's most convincing arguments.
Republicans must realize that presidential debate is actually a gift to Biden. By stepping onto the same stage with Biden, Trump raises his opponent's image from a cowering, mask-waring moon-child to a serious competitor. Trump should agree to do this only under two very specific conditions.
First, the debate must take place in front of a live audience. The Democratic establishment is going to do everything it can to use COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid putting Biden and Trump in front of a live audience. Live audience reactions cannot be controlled, allowing the candidates to connect directly with the people. By severing this connection, the debate moderators and videographers can turn one-liners that would have audiences roaring in laughter into awkward, sympathetic pauses for the opponent. A debate without an audience gives the power to the elites, and takes it from the people.
Second, the first debate must be moderated by FoxNews. In 2012, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney participated in three presidential debates, moderated by PBS, CNN, and CBS. The results, already discussed above, were predictable. Right now, FoxNews is the closest thing America has to a balanced news source, since its donors are mostly Wall-Street Republicans of the stripe recently ousted by populist Trump. A panel that includes Bret Baier and Chris Wallace would be difficult to accuse of partisanship. And, FoxNews could even invite Megyn Kelly—famous for her unfriendly tit-for-tat with Trump in 2016--back for a rematch.
Unless these two demands are met, Trump should insist that Joe Biden is trying to avoid "real debate" for a "rigged debate." This would force Joe to scoff at FoxNews, completely undermining his claims to be a unity candidate. This way, regardless of whether or not debate happens, Trump wins.