Sunday, July 31, 2016

We Saw This One Coming

I've never been at all sure Donald Trump would debate. You already have pundits looking to the debates now.

This piece by John Kass I find irritating on many levels. He is trying very hard to draw false equivalence between the two candidates.

And his claim that it all comes down to the debates is totally ahistorical. Name me the last campaign decided by debates? I guess 1960. But none since then.

Debates are overrated. Kass dismisses the conventions but conventions have more impact on the race than debates do.

Anyway Trump is already making his first salvo to get out of the debates. Not even in August yet.

"Donald Trump says he wants three presidential debates. But he stands by his complaint that their scheduling is rigged to favor Hillary Clinton."

"In an interview to be aired Sunday on ABC News' "This Week," Trump said: "Well, I'll tell you what I don't like. It's against two NFL games. I got a letter from the NFL saying, "This is ridiculous. Why are the debates against--" 'cause the NFL doesn't wanna go against the debates. 'Cause the debates are gonna be pretty massive, from what I understand, okay? And I don't think we should be against the NFL. I don't know how the dates were picked."

"Pressed by host George Stephanopoulos on the dates, he said: "Hillary Clinton wants to be against the NFL. She doesn't, maybe like she did with Bernie s-- Bernie Sanders, where they were on Saturday nights when nobody's home. But they're against the NFL."

"I saw the dates. Two-- I think two of the three are against the NFL. So I'm not thrilled with that. But I like three debates. I think that's fine. I think it's enough. If somebody said, "one debate," I'd rather have three. I think they'll be very interesting."

Read more:

"So Trump wants credit for 'wanting three debates'-but there usually are and Hillary is fine with three, so why does he deserve credit for saying he's willing to do what most candidates usually do without needing to be praised over?"

"An NFL spokesman confirmed the NFL did not send a letter to Trump, but added "obviously we wish they were not scheduled at the same time as two of our games."

Read more:

So, in other words, Trump lied again? Hillary didn't set these dates.

"Trump late Friday accused Clinton of intentionally stacking debates against primetime programming to “rig” the election process, despite the fact that the schedule has been set since last September."

Read more:

But Trump is trying to appeal to the Berner Bros with this silly 'rigged' line. What we learned from Bernier is the system doesn't have to be 'rigged' for them to keep claiming that it is.

As Josh Marshall suggests part of this is Trump trying to control the parameters of the debate. The details don't matter so much as that he wants to establish dominance over the process.

Marshall speculates that Trump will demand that Jill Stein and Gary Johnson participate:

"The requirement is simple: get out of the debates, make them not happen without seeming to be the one who's running away or tanking them. Here's how. I suspect Trump will start claiming that that the process is "rigged" because Gary Johnson and Jill Stein aren't included. For better or worse (I think better), the debate commission rules are crystal clear: You need to hit 15% support in a certain number of major polls to be included. It's highly unlikely Johnson will meet that threshold; it's almost impossible that Stein will. Inclusion over exclusion has an inherent logic to it even if it's obviously self-serving and not appropriate in this case. So I think Trump will find this a comfortable position from which to attack the debates themselves."

"Trump does better in multi-person debates than one-on-ones. They're much less debates in any real sense. They're more like parallel taunt contests. The multi-person format also makes it easier to avoid policy detail. What's more, Stein would certainly work with Trump in tag-teaming Hillary Clinton, putting her under fire from both the left and right. Johnson's role is more uncertain. He less of an attack dog by temperament. And who he'd have more interest in attacking is less clear than it might seem. I'm sure Clinton would weather such a debate. But it's clearly a less attractive option for her that a one on one with Trump."

"What's more, agreeing to such a debate in contravention of the debate commission rules and at Trump's demand would show her giving into to Trump's bullying, which would be extremely damaging quite apart from whether two person or four person debates are better in the abstract."

"The other thing to remember is that for all their flaws, presidential debates are fairly substantive. They have high caliber moderators like Jim Lehrer. Candidates are pressed on real questions. It's nothing like primary debates with a dozen or more participants. Trump's major liability is that a substantial majority of the public either believes or is inclined to believe that he is temperamentally unfit to be president. His natural path will be to try to bully or overwhelm Clinton. It's the essence of his political mode and message. But Clinton does not rattle easily. He'll have a very hard time throwing her off balance. Precisely the things he'll try to do are the kinds of things likely to reinforce the perception that he simply lacks the temperament to be president."

"Trump has many reasons to want to avoid the debates, especially three one-on-one engagements. But by every measure, neither Clinton nor the debate commission seem likely to give in to his demands. He'll have the active support of Stein and Johnson (which makes sense), make a stir of fighting for a 'non-rigged' process and then simply refuse to participate. For anyone really paying attention, it will be obvious what happened. But for his supporters, it will be enough of a hook to pretend he didn't chicken out."

"There's another thread to this story, which cuts slightly against this picture but is broadly part of the same one. Trump didn't so much debate in the Republican primaries as use them with some skill to enact a series of dominance rituals at the expense of his opponents. Indeed, this is the key to understanding virtually everything Trump does. Whatever is actually happening he tries to refashion it into a dominance ritual or at least will not engage before performing one. You saw that in those numerous examples where he said he would participate in a debate but only after the other party wrote a major check to charity. It's primal. He needs to dominate before he will engage.

"Characterologically, Trump needs tension and drama. Fresh out of the conventions, he now needs to create a drama out of the debates. Like a bad seed kid, he can't help picking fights. He needs tension both to satisfy inner needs and to deal with other people. But even if he eventually agrees to participate in one or more of the debates, he will try mightily to force some change or break some dishes in order to assert dominance over the process. He'll insist someone needs to be included, some part of the format has to change, some location isn't sufficient. The substance will always be secondary to the need to impose his will. His initial volley making the non-sensical claim that Hillary Clinton scheduled the debates during football games is just the beginning."

I agree that Trump is trying to establish dominance over the process and very may well duck out of one or more debates as he did in the primary. 

As Marshall says, Trump is at a disadvantage in a one on one for his lack of knowledge. But being that it's against a woman, he won't be able to stop himself from saying something really, really stupid. 

I don't know what the odds are for each of the possibilities:

1. That there are all three debates. 

2 That was have two.

3. Just one.

4. Or none. 

I definitely think 2 through 4 are all nontrivial possibilities. 

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