The gamemakers on the Commission on Presidential Debates announced they had changed the rules and the next debate will be virtual. Trump immediately said he won’t play along, saying he wouldn’t waste his time. That was the right move.
Trump knows that a virtual format would box him in. If you noticed Wallace saving Biden in the last debate, imagine when they can turn off Trump’s mic and camera at will.
These debates are like the game show featured in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games. They are a reality show meant to pacify those out of power (actual power, not mere elected power). The established powers control the rules of the game, and they change them at will so that no matter what the polls show, the establishment always wins. The odds are never in your favor. That is, of course, unless you don’t play the game.
As I’ve argued before, Trump’s aggressive style is necessary in this kind of “debate.” The future of our country must be pried from the grip of the established neoliberal order. As Scott Yenor recently wrote, “civility is not commensurate to today’s political threat. Too high an emphasis on civility and excessive worry about gaining a reputation for incivility is political suicide.”
Contra Conrad Black, Trump must be cacophonous. The discord is the point. Trump’s jarring style is itself an attack on the established order and highlights what this election is about. This is not an election about tax rates or any other ordinary policy difference, but about fundamental questions. As Trump so loudly demonstrated in the first debate, we are deciding whether Antifa is merely an “idea” (an idea that sometimes kills people) or if we have the will to stand up to the radical factions burning our cities, harassing our families, or murdering our fellow citizens in the streets.
Tradition is Not Always Good
The old ways not only don’t work, they are harmful. They keep people asleep. Some people would rather wrap themselves in the comforting lie that civility must rule, as if we are not in the midst of a not-so-cold civil war. But agitators in the streets burning businesses with the support of one party and the backing of Big Tech and the media isn’t politics as usual. Politics as usual is powerless to stop things like this.
Take the vice presidential debate. Pence “won,” but he debated with Harris as if she were just a centrist who happens to be pro-choice with bad ideas and an ineffective record—as if she is just an alternative to the Trump Administration with a different tax policy that will cost you some money in your 401k. That may be true, or at least part of the story, but your retirement is hardly going to matter if the Left gets their way.
Pence did not address the fact that she is being installed by radical forces. If Biden wins, she will be President. And if she is president, she will be a tool of people who want you dead. Harris represents people fundamentally opposed to every good and American idea of self-government. Pence did nothing to illustrate this reality or the stakes of this election.
But we learned she wants to pack the court! As if we didn’t know. Even that was presented as just another political disagreement—not the radical, destructive thing that it is.
Whatever polite zingers Pence got in, he did not challenge the presumption that this is just another democratic election. He did not help establish in the minds of the viewers that the house is divided and we can only fall one way or the other. He did not wake up those who are asleep, and he did not clarify the path forward in the minds of the woke.
Instead, he played along with the game, offering legitimacy to the insane and illegitimate questions of the powers that be, presented politely by a supposedly unbiased moderator. And all the normies clapped and cooed at his decorum. We discussed Kamala’s facial expressions and smarmy attitude, as if her likability was the question of the night.
And what did it get us? The Right is anything but energized afterward. The Left is anything but demoralized. Instead, Twitter feeds extol her powerful black female attitude confronting the white patriarchy. Don’t worry, it’s something only a woman or a “person of color” could understand. They discuss how strong women can’t really push back lest they be called a bitch. Pence was mansplaining! Let’s talk about mansplaining and chuckle at the silliness of it. Haha. And did you see the fly?! Pence must be demonic or a piece of excrement. But Obama had a fly once too!
Pence was more civil than Trump, but he is called the same names. The political discussion after the Pence debate is no more substantive than after Trump’s. But it is on the Left’s turf, giving them the advantage. They gain legitimacy and more people stay asleep as they continue the long march leftward.
It Is Trump Who Wins
All of this points to the upside-down lesson some people learn from things like the VP debate. The blind will see it and think, “see, Pence is a great ally and asset to Trump. Trump should be more like Pence.” They get it backwards: Pence is there only because of Trump and how Trump is. Trump, not Pence, brought the two of them to the White House. Pence can talk about all of the administration’s accomplishments because of Trump’s style, not Pence’s.
Any debate about effective style needs to be preceded by an understanding of what is actually happening in reality. We cannot mistake pleasant and civil debates for actual politics. Winning elections and accomplishing actual things is what matters. We can survive without polite debates—and the Pences of the world who master them—but not without winning, and the Trumps of the world who accomplish that.
So we return to the question of future debates and Trump’s style. Whatever the rational argument, won’t the visceral reaction people have to Trump’s demeanor turn off 2020 voters? Maybe he really is too obnoxious. Don’t we need the moderates?
After all, we all hear the common refrain, even from Trump voters, that “I wish Trump would just shut up.” It is so common, in fact, that one wonders if it isn’t just another empty saying required by the law of fashion. How many people express a desire for Trump to tweet or say less, but then laugh along at a list of his antics that trigger the Left? I think deep down we enjoy it because we know it’s good to watch our opponents squirm as we reject their rule. I’d guess even moderates, in fact, want a strong man—a fighter—in these radical times. It just isn’t politically correct to admit it.
As with the obviously inflated polls for Biden, the audio doesn’t match the visual with the idea that people find Trump’s style to be such a turnoff. The talking heads in the beltway and lamenters of decorum offer no real explanation for the rallies, the boat parades, or miles of cars for Trump. You are told to believe those aren’t suburban moms. Look at the polls! In my experience, many people chuckle at Trump’s words, despite the pacifying pearl-clutching and clucking of David French and company.
People might be dissatisfied with the way things are, but don’t confuse this with disliking Trump. Our circumstances include much to dislike. If anything, people I know want Trump to be just as mean but even more effective. Like seeing the sun for the first time, reality can hurt the eyes, but people in the light can rejoice in the challenge.
Released and Compelled to Stand Up
There is a growing awareness that playing along by the old rules, which is to say, the ever-shifting rules of political correctness controlled by the establishment, is a loser. This applies to much of our politics, but it especially applies to debates. The game is rigged. The ones who control it want to keep Republicans in the “invisible mime box” as Kurt Schlichter says—the cage of civility that makes them look like clowns.
If the Commission on Presidential Debates keeps the last debate as is and Trump senses he can exploit the rules of the game to his advantage, perhaps Trump should beat-down Biden again. But Trump would be wise only to debate so long as he can be as aggressive as he needs to be. If there are no more debates, so be it. Trump can hold his huuuge rallies and Biden can wear his mask and meet with 12 people in circles. Either way we will see strength versus weakness and can choose our champion accordingly.