Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Sept. 29 debate scoresheet

 1. Biden needs to keep his cool. 45 will try every cheap shot he can think of to provoke him--attacks on his kids, suggestions of senility, insinuations of fake scandals, whatever. This doesn't hurt Biden unless he loses his temper and calls DT a horse-face dog rider or whatever like from the primary season.

Point for Trump if:

  •  Biden is so visibly agitated that he can’t debate effectively

  •  Biden Biden uses any term from either a PBS schoolyard (“liar,” “bully,” etc.) or the old-time Delaware country club set (e.g. “pony soldier”)

  • Bonus: Biden raises his voice or resorts to fisticuffs


Point Biden if:

  • He makes it through the debate without calling Trump any names at all

  • Bonus: he calls Trump a name but it’s actually funny and properly delivered

2. Biden needs the better argument on jobs for Midwesterners without college degrees. This is the one policy area where 45 makes hay: he blames Democrats for losing domestic factory jobs with free trade agreements, and promises to keep those jobs in the USA and even bring manufacturing back. That is the #1 thing poorly-educated whites in places like Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and western PA want to hear, and that's important because those are the states most likely to decide the election. So Biden needs to get three key points across here: (i) factory workers didn't do any better under DT than under Obama, (ii) if DT sticks around, they will do worse because DT will nuke their health care and Social Security, and (iii) Dems will protect health care and Social Security, and get serious about climate which will ultimately create more domestic jobs in manufacturing and other industries.

             Point Cheetochet if:

  • He claims to have created some ungodly number of Midwestern manufacturing jobs, and this is not persuasively refuted by Biden or Wallace,
  •  He speaks cogently about Biden’s support for the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement
  • He reminds voters that Biden voted in favor of NAFTA
  • Bonus: he finds something he agrees with Bernie Sanders on and uses it against Biden

Point Biden if:

    • He effectively and succinctly articulates the connections between Social Security, health care, and Trump’s policies (payroll tax, SCOTUS nominations) in terms anybody who dropped out of Arthur Hill High School at age 17 can understand
    • He credibly explains how he has come to view NAFTA as a mistake and how his approach to trade has changed since then
    •  He persuasively connects jobs to climate and articulates a realistic vision for future economic growth that Midwesterners can relate to;
    • Bonus: he clearly explains how minimum wage increases exert upward pressure on all wages
    • Bonus: he articulates the importance of organized labor and highlights the good works of modern, inclusive unions

3. Biden needs to show (not tell) how the lack of effective national leadership has resulted in the U.S. having over 20% of the world’s Covid-19 deaths despite only 5% of its population, lingering economic malaise, and decreasing confidence in either our public health institutions or the governmental support necessary to enable social distancing and safety measures.  Then he needs to spell out his plan for how he will address Covid-19 from day one, bringing the virus under control and enabling the U.S. economy to catch up with that of other industrialized countries that have better battled Covid-19 even before a vaccine is available.  Trump needs to survive this segment and try to minimize the damage.

             Point Trump if:

  • He effectively paints Biden’s position as ambiguous or unrealistic

  • He dodges the question and Wallace fails to direct him back

  • No mention of face masks, bleach, pool chemicals, ultraviolet lights, the virus magically disappearing, or other greatest hits

  • Bonus: there are technical difficulties during this phase of the debate

Point Biden if:

  •  He expresses a simple, common-sense approach to Covid-19 that squares with public health recommendations and reflects successes from other countries;

  • He delivers his recommendations with restrained confidence that people on news networks call “presidential” or “statesmanlike”

  • Bonus: he offers practical suggestions that state and local governments can begin implementing right now, demonstrating his leadership qualities and effectively sidelining the orangeutang

 3. Trump is currently trying to jam an Atwoodian nightmare of a Supreme Court nominee through the process to replace RBG, and will likely succeed too—even though in 2016 the Republicans blocked Obama’s replacement for Scalia on the grounds that voters should supposedly choose.  So this will be the question for Trump—i.e., why isn’t this hypocrisy.  Barrett’s confirmation will put ACA, abortion rights, and all manner of civil rights and due process at risk.  If it happens, the pressure will be on the Dems to increase the number of SCOTUS justices to even up the tables, should they take the White House and Senate.  This is a tricky subject for Biden, who has publicly opposed “court packing” in the past.  Biden will need to answer in a way that supports Dem senators fighting the Barrett confirmation while not looking like a hypocrite himself. 

             Point Trump if:

  • He says there was never any rule that you can’t appoint a new SCOTUS justice right before the election and whatever GOP senators might have said in 2016 doesn’t matter because they were wrong;

  • He suggests, perhaps in a manner less brash than he is accustomed, that he’s just better at playing the political game than his opponents and the fact that he’s been able to pack the court with ultra-right-wingers is just proof of his superior skill and resolve;

Point Biden if:

  • He is able to pithily summarize the long history of right-wing court packing and illustrate how the present court is out-of-step with mainstream U.S. values, and would become even more so with RBG replaced by Barrett;

  • He explains how choosing federal judges should be de-politicized, with competence and fidelity to basic legal principles taking priority over partisan affiliations, and ideologues should be avoided—not sought out;

  • He acknowledges his prior remarks on court packing but refuses to commit to keeping the court at nine;

  • Bonus: he says good things about RBG, demonstrating familiarity with her career and accomplishments, in the process

4. Trump blusters on about “law and order” but what he really means is suppressing righteous protests and allowing police and armed militia people to terrorize and sometimes even murder people on the left.  So far, Trump’s strategy has been to try and amplify the magnitude of the protests and characterize them as violent and a threat to white people far and wide.  But he really needs to distance himself from the white supremacists if he’s to have any chance of expanding his coalition—and it will be up to Biden not to let him.  Biden has been walking a line between supporting the right to protest but not supporting the defunding of police or other specific policy goals the movement has asserted.  He’ll need to flesh that position out in ways voters will appreciate.  This has the makings of the most interesting exchange of the night.

Point Trump if:

  • He rejects white supremacists and asserts that protesters with AR-15s and confederate flags are responsible for the majority of the violence and should be dealt with harshly;

  • He acknowledges mistakes made by his administration, as well as local police forces, and makes vague promises to “take complaints seriously” and “keep these things from happening again;”

  • His attacks on Biden’s supposed support for violent anarchists and their crazy demands hit home.


Point Biden if:

  • He articulates a reasonable and coherent middle ground between police abolition and law enforcement impunity;

  • He shows understanding for the demands and frustrations in communities of color while emphasizing the need for practical and community-based solutions;

  •  He delivers a killer soundbyte to the effect that U.S. Presidents don’t call Nazis and white supremacists “fine people” that is re-broadcast far and wide;


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