Last night Joe Biden stayed in a Cleveland hotel - his first sleepover in over six months, since March, when he took to his basement in Delaware. The great thing about the Biden campaign is that it doesn't require Biden to campaign. Here's yours truly two days ago on the fake-speech format of his ad blitz:
If you're just the casual semi-engaged "low-information voter" (as Rush used to say), your impression is of Joe giving speeches, tirelessly, night after night, in between Jeopardy and Ellen and Entertainment Tonight. You could CGI in the rear end of Harry Truman's railroad car with distant glimpses behind of palm trees or snow-capped mountains and make Biden's 24/7 whistlestop barnstorming a little more produced ...but that might attract a little too much scrutiny.
Ha! Today Joe is doing an actual whistlestop tour - boarding a train and making seven stops. After that, back to the basement - but with enough footage for another month of campaign ads. Which may be why there were rumors this morning that, after surviving last night, the Biden campaign is rethinking whether it needs to participate in any more debates.
It's a brilliant strategy ...if they can run it out to November 3rd. I'm reminded of Blake Edwards using twenty minutes of outtakes of the late Peter Sellers to make another thirty-seven Pink Panther sequels - although even Edwards might have balked at trying to string that out every day for four years.
~Traditionally in American politics this last stretch is all about some tiny "moderate" "independent" "centrist" sliver in the middle that hasn't been paying attention till now. For most of this century, I have not been entirely persuaded that this sliver actually exists. But, be that as it may, traditionally in debate season Frank Luntz pops up on Fox immediately afterwards with a focus group of almost creepily "centrist" types, invariably whining that, when the President was talking about foreign policy, trade, terrorism, etc, she didn't really feel he was focusing enough on her. Last night's focus group was on Zoom not Fox, and went a little differently:
This debate has actually convinced some undecided voters to not vote at all.
I've never seen a debate cause this reaction.
I can buy that. America's general elections have much lower turnout than other western nations:
Belgium 87 per cent;
Sweden 83 per cent;
Israel 76 per cent;
New Zealand 76 per cent;
Germany 69 per cent;
France 68 per cent;
Italy 65 per cent;
United Kingdom 63 per cent;
Canada 62 per cent;
United States 56 per cent.
If even 62 per cent of Americans were to show up on November 3rd, who knows what would happen? But, if the alternative to Trump is Biden, that's not gonna happen: Almost all those countries are multi-party, not two-party, and certainly not as starkly binary as November's ballot. For the Republicans, this will be a base election, in which there is great enthusiasm among Trump's base and on the other side none for Biden. For the Democrats, this will be a chaos election, in which Covid procedures and other flimflam will offer opportunities that they believe will more than compensate for the lack of enthusiasm.
~As to the moderator, within Fox News there is much criticism of Chris Wallace - as there should be. A terrible one-sided performance. I reiterate my point from last night that, when Wallace tried to shut up Trump and said, "If you'd like to change places, sir," the President should have taken up the invitation. Norms are not his friend, and, when a condescending arbiter gives him an opening like that, he should take it. For one thing, his questions to Biden were shorter and sharper than Wallace's.
For me Wallace's intervention marked the dividing line at which a low debate began to sink to the depths. But, if like most viewers you only watched the first half-hour, I'm inclined to think you would have given it to the President. He came out of the game and went Full Trump in the best sense - which is certainly obnoxious but also effective. If you checked out around 9.45, all you saw on the other side was a woozy meandering sad sack. Which may be why CNN, MSNBC et al were so muted and downcast - and already proposing there is no need for further debates.
~If you're one of that small brave band that enjoys me on camera, I'll be back with Tucker tonight, Wednesday.
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Laura Rosen Cohen will be here with her weekly take on our bewildering world a little later today.