Joe Biden could easily take the award for the rudest Presidential candidate in debate in my memory. Put the Vice President up against past nominees and that would be nearly undeniable. Except that he was debating the President, who didn’t want to lose out on that award. Most disturbingly, in that melee, the President’s horrid performance allowed one of the worst ideas ever brought up on a debate floor to slide by and it could easily mean we all lose.
Let’s start at the end: America, we ought to be brokenhearted this morning. We should demand better. We will suffer for not doing so. Neither candidate acquitted himself like a worthy candidate for the highest office of the land.
I wrote a few weeks ago that I intend to vote for Donald Trump, but I cringed during the debate frequently as the president would talk over Biden and — worse — venerable debate moderator Chris Wallace. Wallace’s questions were hard hitting and quite possibly could have helped the president, but the president’s impertinence overshadowed Biden’s weaknesses.
Biden, for his part, tossed out school yard insults like social distanced candy, calling the President a clown, a racist and the like multiple times. It was undignified and should have been the story of the night. The illusion that Biden offers a better, more statesman-like path forward, as naive as I have always felt that to be, was left beaten to a bloody pulp on the debate floor last night.
If Trump could have quit talking, people would have seen the problem of electing the former Veep. He rarely could stay on track with his answers and seemed to repeatedly dodge committing to positions either because he was not sure what to say or he was too afraid of fracturing his divided base. Biden repeatedly took bizarre turns in his arguments, such as when he suggested Trump hated Irish Catholics like Biden. Biden was all but offering Trump the victory over and over again. Instead, the President seemed determined to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.
A few good moments showed what the debate could have been. The President clearly elucidated why he should be able to appoint a Supreme Court justice before the election, citing Justice Ginsburg herself to make the point. Trump deflated Biden’s ability to counterattack by being the first to bring up former Obama nominee Merrick Garland and offering the refreshingly honest admission that the difference between 2016 and 2020 is that the same party controls the presidency and Senate right now. Cynical? Yes. Truthful? Yes. Biden’s attempt to suggest a president must prematurely give up his duty to nominate justices was weak and weakly argued.
Likewise, the president did well to point to successes under his administration on the economy, the need to condemn the non-peaceful demonstrations of recent months and to bring attention to the question of election fraud.
However, victories for either side were few and there were two particularly disturbing moments in a disturbing debate that made me just wish there were a viable third party. First, the president’s agreement to condemn white supremacy should have been a meaningful moment. Yet, only doing so with a “sure” nearly lost under Wallace’s question, since Trump said it before Wallace had finished asking his question and then quickly pivoted onto Antifa, left me feeling empty. Just do the right thing, Mr. President. A simple, unequivocal and forceful condemnation was what we needed. It was not hard to do, but we didn’t get it.
Second, Biden’s refusal to address the threat of court packing — adding extra Supreme Court justices to change the balance of the court to his favor — except to try to falsely attribute it to Trump, rather than his own party leaders, was chilling since both parties have agreed not to go there in the past. Everyone knows packing the court would quite likely decimate our system of government, which is why such an alluring option for whichever party is in power has only rarely even been mentioned and always resoundingly rejected.
White supremacy needs to be condemned and so does anything that would undermine the ability of the country to have an independent judiciary to deal with all the issues we face, including racial ones. Those two moments should really disqualify both of these candidates, but unfortunately the November ballot stays the same and taunts us.
So, what do we do? I think we need to look at those disturbing moments and consider the implications. The president has not pushed racist legislation. He has, however, fought for criminal justice reform that deals with the disproportionate number of minority individuals wrongfully incarcerated and, for all the attempts to suggest that he has sought to unleash racial tension, much, if not all of that, actually lands at the feet at the Obama-Biden administration (if you look at when it started).
Do I despise that tepid response of Trump’s? Yes, I do. That said, actions speak louder than words and his actions have been far more equitable than his words.
On the other hand, Biden’s non-answer on court packing, paired with the Pelosi-Schumer support for it in the legislative branch, suggests future actions, not just words. The unacceptable rhetoric that the President often spews hurts us all, but Biden appears ready to push the button on an actual, devastating action. Court packing will hurt every American. If you hate the president, maybe you think court packing with liberal justices is just the ticket to get the policies you love through. Remember, though, if that happens and yet somehow we avoid becoming a one party state, there may be a day when the GOP is in power again — do you want the GOP to have that kind of power?
I don’t want either party to have that sort of power.
This won’t be the issue everyone will be talking about today, but it should be. Do you care about racial justice? Care about an impartial Supreme Court. Do you care about fair and democratic elections? Care about an impartial Supreme Court. Do you care about religious freedom? Care about an impartial Supreme Court. Do you care about free speech? Care about an impartial Supreme Court.
Who won this debate? No one. Who lost? Clearly, all Americans. Who will lose if both candidates do not unequivocally reject court packing? The Republic, which will not stand.
E. Ryan Haffner writes on politics for Open for Business.