The Debatable Debate Debate

I have no unsolicited debate advice for Hillary Clinton. I may be the only one who writes about politics who does not. I certainly have none for the Insult Comedian except STAY CLASSY:

Nobody knows for sure which Trump will show up for the debate. Speaking of dopey, I expect to see Xanax Donald at the beginning but something may provoke a toddler tantrum. I hope so. The mere notion of Mark Cuban in the front row has already gotten under his skin. Cuban is a *real* billionaire and didn’t kill the sports league in which he owns a franchise.

The Gennifer Flowers stunt has been undermined by rampant confusion on the part of Team Trump. It’s a terrible idea and the “adults” on his team have attempted to undermine it but who knows? That’s another reason why he should never be the first Insult Comedian elected President. He’s erratic and unstable as well as an habitual liar. If you want to blow shit up, he’s your guy. I have no idea why anyone thinks that a good idea but they do. I do not.

One more point on the Jennifer with a G (as Molly Ivins  was fond of calling her) stunt. I’m with Peter Tosh on this one: “when you live in a glass house, don’t throw stones.” It’s one reason Bill’s roving eye didn’t come up in the 1992 general election. Poppy Bush lived in his own glass house and had the good sense not to rock that issue. Leroy N Gingrich and Bob Livingston would have been wise to follow Poppy’s example during the impeachment clusterfuck. Of course, the Insult Comedian is a short-fingered vulgarian not known for impulse control so anything could happen.

In an attempt to dramatize an inherently dramatic event, the MSM has hyped the debate as a game changer. That’s unlikely. Debates rarely, if ever, decide elections. They do, however, confirm biases and trends. The 1980 Reagan-Carter tangle gave people a green light to roll the dice and vote out an unpopular incumbent but it did not decide the election. Carter was doomed by the hostage crisis and a terrible economy.

There’s a fascinating oral history of the 2000 Bush-Gore debates in the New York Times. It posits that they decided that election. They did not. It was a squeaker all the way and other factors decided that race. Team Gore’s refusal to judiciously deploy Bill Clinton was the fatal mistake: nobody blamed the Veep for the Big Dog’s personal fuck ups. Clinton would have helped with some constituencies and might have even helped Gore win his home state of Tennessee. It’s never a good idea to nominate a candidate who cannot win their home state, which is something that’s going to happen in 2016 when New York kicks Trump to the curb. In the end, the debates did not defeat Gore, MSM sneering, Ralph Nader, and the Supreme Court gave the prize to the nitwit from Texas.

As to other famous debate moments, I don’t think Nixon’s makeup gave the election to Kennedy or that Ford’s “liberation of Poland” elected Carter. Nixon was running for a third Eisenhower term without the genial General at the top of the ticket and Ford pardoned Tricky for his Watergate crimes. 1976 was going to be a Democratic year in the same way that 1968 and 1980 were for the GOP. The same dynamic applied in 2008. This year is wide open BUT the third consecutive term thing is one reason the race is closer than it should be. I’ll start worrying about national polls *only* if Trump hits 46-47% in one of the quality polls. Thus far, 44-45% has been his ceiling.

The best thing I’ve read about the 2016 debates is the Atlantic cover piece by James Fallows. He was a Carter speechwriter in 1976, so he’s been on both sides of the fence. Btw, that was the year there was an audio outage *during* the first debate since 1960, which resulted in a delay of 27 minutes:

Years later, Carter told Jim Lehrer, “I watched that tape afterwards and it was embarrassing to me that both President Ford and I stood there almost like robots. We didn’t move around, we didn’t walk over and shake hands with each other. We just stood there.” Ford added, “I suspect both of us would have liked to sit down and relax while the technicians were fixing the system, but I think both of us were hesitant to make any gesture that might look like we weren’t physically or mentally able to handle a problem like this.”

Ultimately, sound was restored although many have subsequently claimed that those 27 minutes were the finest in the history of presidential debates. Journalist Sander Vanocur later described the incident as “an unnatural act between two consenting candidates.”

Pardon the digression but that was a helluva quote. It follows that we’ll get back to Fallows now. He has the best description of Trump’s alpha-male shtick that I’ve seen:

“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me shortly before Trump won the GOP nomination. “In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks. The more vigorous and imaginative the display, the faster the individual is likely to rise in the hierarchy, and the longer he is likely to maintain that position.”

In her book My Life With the Chimpanzees, Goodall told the story of “Mike,” a chimp who maintained his dominance by kicking a series of kerosene cans ahead of him as he moved down a road, creating confusion and noise that made his rivals flee and cower. She told me she would be thinking of Mike as she watched the upcoming debates.

That story reminds me of a male chimp at the San Francisco Zoo when I was a kid. His dominance stunt was masturbating into a burlap sack and throwing it at all and sundry. On one memorable day, he threw it at the crowd and, to my mother’s horror, 5-year-old-me caught it. I wish I could say that I put on a vigorous and imaginative display but I don’t remember what happened after my encounter with the master debater. Like Tommy T, I went there. Literal malakatude reigns supreme…

I suspect HRC will do fine tonight since Trump knows *nothing* about public policy and is easily distracted by bright shiny objects like Mark Cuban’s Shark Tank ratings. The second best description of Trump’s debate style in the Fallows article is from short-lived Democratic Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley:

I asked former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who was onstage with Clinton and Sanders for the first five encounters, whether he’d seen Clinton make any significant mistakes. “No,” he said. “Dammit!” To round things out, when I asked O’Malley how he would be preparing to debate Trump if he’d won the nomination, he said, “I’d start by thinking of him as a monkey with a machine gun.” By that he meant an adversary who is all the more dangerous because you can’t predict which direction he’ll be facing when he pulls the trigger.

A monkey with a machine gun? I like that. It fits the rat-a-tat-tat speaking style of the Insult Comedian in full flight. Hopefully, he’ll point the machine gun at himself. He’s done it before.

The danger for the Democrats in this debate is how low the bar is set for Trump. If he doesn’t whip his dick out and brag about how big it is, the MSM may declare him the “winner” on style as opposed to HRC taking it on substance. It’s what happened with the Matt Lauer debacle, after all. If things do not go well tonight, just remember that John Kerry cleaned W’s clock in all three 2004 debates and still lost the election. Debates are important, not decisive.

Mark Cuban has called this debate the Humbling at Hofstra. That’s one reason the Crack Van will emerge from the Bat Cave, or wherever A keeps it, for tonight’s tussle. She’ll have the details later and I’ll be back in the wee hours with an instant analysis, pudding, or some weird combination of the two. I have no idea if it will be savory or sweet.

See you in the Crack Van.

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