Issue #7: The Debate issue, Montana’s Senate race and more

By David S. Kerr

A product of Morningside Communications

(This week: The Debates (our special review) – the President’s “Say what” moment – who wants another debate (not me) – the Montana Senate Race is hot – Ohio tips very slightly Democratic – and a special from our London Correspondent comparing British general election debates to ours.)

Debate Special

In college I made a little extra money judging high school debates.  It was more fun than it sounds and one of the things we did, as judges, in order to keep track of the myriad of arguments, was to keep a debate flow chart.  That way, when say when the first debater raised various points in their opening, we could track them through the initial presentation, rebuttal and counter arguments from the other side, all the way to closing remarks. We judged on cogency of argument and evidence.   

With that lofty image of what a debate should be, and having watched all of the past Presidential debates, my impression of this first Presidential debate between President Trump and Former Vice President Joe Biden was shear horror. Have we really sunk this low?  This had none of the dignity, or careful exchange of views I remember from the Kennedy/Nixon debates, the Carter/Ford debates, or even the Romney/Obama debates.  I don’t count 2016.  Those were respectful and informative exchanges.  The Trump/Biden debate (and I use the term debate loosely) has left the rest of the world wondering, “what’s going on in America?”  

Say What?  

What’s a debate without a “say what” moment?  Perhaps I was just hearing things.  But, during an exchange over Antifa, Joe Biden, in a move to deflect the question, asked if the President would disavow the “Proud Boys.”  The Proud Boys a paramilitary white supremacist and antisemitic outfit that’s endorsed Trump.  In response to the Biden query, he told the Proud Boys, sort of conveying his own personal message to them on national television, to “stand down and stand by.”  President Trump, sir, respectfully, I have to ask, what were you thinking?

Do we need two more debates

Good question.  The first debate was painful to watch and the second and third are likely to be as bad.  But if former Vice President Biden chooses to back out of the remaining two, President Trump can say Biden was afraid to debate.  As for Trump, he likes this kindergarten style verbal fisticuffs, and his one liner jabs rally his base. So, we’ll be having two more debates.  As for who watches, that’s another story.  Of note, the Debate Commission is promising to enforce a more structured format.  Good luck with that one.

Montana’s U.S. Senate Race

Control of the Senate is a possible secondary prize for the Democrats.  Obviously, first and foremost, they want the White House, but with a Democratic Senate, they’d have their hold on the nation’s capital for the first time in a decade.  It’s doable, but the road to victory is, at least geographically, not a straight one. Take for instance, Montana.  This is a state I love, but its politics are complicated and not nearly as predictable as many would like to think.  Afterall, they voted with a 20-point margin for Donald Trump in 2016 and then reelected Democrat Jim Tester to the Senate in 2018.  This year, after much cajoling they got the retiring Democratic Governor Steve Bullock to jump into the race against Senator Steve Daines.  Yes, there are two Steves.  The race is close. Daines holds a within the margin of error lead.  However, the amount of money being spent in this state is staggering.  Bullock is a popular governor with a good track record during COVID.  Daines is an incumbent GOP Senator in a red state.  There is going to have to be a lot of ticket splitting (something westerners don’t seem to mind) to get Bullock elected.  If he wins, the Democrats could well get their Senate majority.

Ohio tilting, slightly, very slightly Democrat? 

It’s still a Biden lead, both nationally, and in key swing states.  However, the latter, those swing states the Democrats must win – Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina – remain close.  One surprise is Ohio.  A recent and respected poll showed Biden up by one point.  Ok, not much to write home about, its well within the margin of error, but he’s been lagging there for weeks.  Of note, no Republican President has been elected without winning Ohio.  More and more, it looks like a Biden win, if there is one, is going to have a lot in common with the Obama wins of 2008 and 2012.

From Across the Pond – our London Correspondent Ross Duncan writes about the British national debates during their elections vs. ours

As I watched the first presidential debate on Tuesday evening, I was struck by the sheer madness of it all. Indeed, even by the remarkably low standards of decorum set in the 2016 presidential debates, this was extraordinary. 

Perhaps the closest comparison to Tuesday’s spectacle that we have in Britain is the televised weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions. PMQs, after all, is the epitome of rowdy political combat, where decorum is abandoned for the far more satisfying activities of jeering and yelling by backbenchers and government ministers alike. Yet, even then—in theory, at least—only one person is allowed to stand and speak at any one time. 

Our own televised live election debates have typically been relatively more sober affairs than the pandemonium seen in Tuesday’s debate, with fewer interruptions and far less vitriol – although there is still plenty of both, to be sure. Indeed, one only has to watch the combative exchanges on Brexit to realise that Britain’s political discourse is by no means the bastion of civility. 

With that said, perhaps there is a silver lining to Tuesday’s debate after all: Trump and Biden may be many things, but bland and robotic politicians, they most certainly are not.