Is Pelosi right to insist Biden not debate Trump?


Fact Box

  • On September 26, 1960, the first-ever televised presidential debate took place in a Chicago studio between Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy and Republican Vice President Richard Nixon. It aired on the NBC Network. 
  • In 1980, sitting President Jimmy Carter was the first debate “no-show,” who refused to debate both Republican presidential candidate, Ronald Regan, and Independent candidate, John Anderson, on the same stage at once. This reflected badly for him in the polls, according to Gallup. 
  • The first debate of the 2016 election-year showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was the most-watched debate to date, drawing in 84 million viewers. The second-highest most-watched debate had been the 1980 Regan-Carter debate, which drew in just under 81 million viewers.   
  • Though all political pundits make gaffes (a social blunder or noticeable mistake that causes embarrassment), Joe Biden has been dubbed a “gaffe machine” by commentators across the political spectrum. Enjoy a few of them here.

Sharon (No)

Pelosi's position regarding the debate is wrong. These debates have become an established part of the presidential political campaign cycle, offering a valuable means of seeing the candidates make their case to the American people on some of the day's issues. These crucial events provide an opportunity for voters to contrast the positions of the candidates and learn more about them as people.  

There's a great deal to be learned from watching presidential debates that goes beyond policy specifics. Viewers gain insight into candidate personality. They get a glimpse at how candidates react under pressure and if they can think quickly and clearly. Audiences can see a little how candidates treat people they may deeply disagree with and handle conflict. Such information matters, and we the people have a right to it.

Researchers have found getting information directly from President Trump and Joe Biden is important to an increasing number of voters. In previous campaigns, many voters said the presidential debates influenced their vote. By taking this no debate stand, Pelosi could be leaving potential Democratic votes untapped. After all, if Biden is the superior choice, the debates will showcase that and deliver the votes.

Refusing to debate is bad optics, playing right into the Hidin' Joe Biden theme. A refusal to debate casts Joe Biden in a bad light, as though he is incapable of debating or has something to hide. It makes the Democratic party look like they are unwilling to cooperate or participate in what is now a standard part of the process. That's not a good look for a candidate promising to unify the nation

Jonathan Jolls (Yes)

For the most part, it is evident silence has been good for Biden. Though he was barely heard from for the majority of the COVID-19 shutdown outside of a few homemade videos and some recent guest appearances—an odd thing, no doubt, for a campaign inside an election year—Biden has managed to gain almost 6 points over Trump. And though he's in front of cameras every day for his daily briefings, Trump has seen his numbers falter.

Trump doesn't debate; he berates. Trump's debate style is to speak in impulses, meandering from issue to issue, leading him to spout off whatever nonsense will rile his opponent. In the last election, we watched him do this to Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and when they tried to play his game back at him, all they did was embarrass themselves. Biden sees himself as a tough guy, a trait both candidates share, and will often fly off the cuff at perceived slights. Biden is leading in the polls, and having a debate that devolves into two older men barking at each other to meet in the schoolyard can only hurt Biden, not help. That's Trump's game, not Biden's, and the voters know that.

The electorate is so polarized it's easy to surmise the 2020 election is not a vote for policies and ideas but teams and loyalties. Americans know full well both men, who they are, what they're like, and what's baked into the cake. And those not yet committed to a side aren't undecided about which platforms to back, but about whether voting even matters.

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