Will This Week’s Presidential Debate Be ‘Rah-Rah’ or ‘Ruh-Roh’

Will This Week’s Presidential Debate Be ‘Rah-Rah’ or ‘Ruh-Roh’

Good evening. It’s debate week!

The showdown in Atlanta means that general election season is upon us, even if there’s not much excitement (more on that below). And that, dear reader, means that On Politics will now appear in your inbox every weekday evening as my colleagues and I try to make sense of this strange and weighty election. –Jess Bidgood

Will This Week’s Presidential Debate Be ‘Rah-Rah’ or ‘Ruh-Roh’

I asked how you all felt about the debate. I have read all your answers.

Laurie Lowe is a Democrat from Florida and a reader of this newsletter (Hello Laurie!). She has a plan for Thursday’s presidential debate between President Biden and former President Donald Trump — and a Plan B in case things go wrong.

“My Democratic friends and I will all be watching, but are afraid that Biden will have one of his ‘moments.'” To lighten our spirits, we have Biden and Trump bingo cards,” Lowe wrote to me. “Bingo could instead become a drinking game if things go badly.”

Last week I asked you all what you thought of the first debate for the 2024 general election. I have read your replies, there are more than 600. And as I wrote earlier today, I learned that many of you have suffered from a deep debate crisis – a feeling that I describe less as “rah-rah” than as ” Ruh-Roh” described.

Some of you expressed nothing but enthusiasm, and you are confident that the President will have a strong performance. But many of you, like Lowe and her friends, want Biden to do well but are afraid he will make a mistake. Some described genuine despair at the prospect of seeing Trump on a debate stage again. Many of you are completely fed up with both men and are debating whether or not to give up on them altogether.

“I just look at it and say, ‘Is this it?'” said Kyle Smith, a Democrat from Northville, Michigan, when I called him yesterday afternoon. “The?”

“It’s almost like watching a car crash,” wrote Nancy Davis, an independent from Pennsylvania. “You just can’t look away.”

Some years, presidential debates bring great anticipation – a moment for people on both sides of the political divide to rally in advance of the fight for the country’s future. That makes the level of fear this year, particularly among Biden supporters, unusual — although it’s fitting for an evening marked by as much unpredictability as this one.

But those low expectations could be a gift, some Democratic strategists say.

“Every time the president goes out, he exceeds expectations, and every time the president goes out, he appeases the Democrats,” Celinda Lake, a pollster who supports Biden’s reelection campaign but speaks only for herself, told me. “But we have the ability to worry again and again.”

Trump doesn’t exactly have a stellar record when it comes to presidential debates. In 2016, he towered over Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, in a confrontation that many viewers interpreted as deeply sexist. When he first debated Biden in 2020, his own constant interruptions during Biden’s speeches were widely viewed as damaging. He lost that election.

But Biden’s history of successful debates hasn’t stopped his supporters from worrying, especially when Republicans are doing everything they can – including misleadingly editing videos – to stoke doubts about his fitness based on his age.

“I’m afraid of it because it reminds me of the Kennedy-Nixon debate,” said Alma Ramos-McDermott, a Democrat from Florida, who acknowledged that Trump and Biden are much closer in age than John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon when they debated in 1960.

Still, she worried that “Biden will appear pale and calm next to Trump’s boisterous attitude.”

Democratic strategists like Lake say Biden was smart to push for an early debate, both to reassure voters like Ramos-McDermott that he is still capable and to remind Trump himself of voters who may have forgotten how unpredictable and snappy he can be.

“God willing,” Lake said wryly, “Trump will do his best.”

On Saturday, my colleague Simon Levien spoke at a Trump rally in Philadelphia with several supporters who were convinced their candidate would come out on top — although one offered some advice.

“Trump just needs to not get too excited and stay calm,” said Brooke Christie, a 44-year-old cancer researcher.

Trump himself, perhaps concerned that he has set the bar too low for his opponent by constantly mocking his cognitive abilities, has sought to raise expectations for Biden. At the rally in Philadelphia, he mocked Biden for preparing for the debate – but acknowledged that his opponent is actually studying.

“It’s like death,” Mr. Trump said. “This could be the most boring thing – or it could be the most exciting thing. Who knows?”

Exciting? Many of the readers who wrote to tell me they were excited highlighted one thing in particular: the fact that the moderators turned off the microphone for the candidate who wasn’t supposed to speak.

“It will be interesting to silence the microphones,” said Kurt Vogel, a former Republican from Buckhead, Georgia, who is now an independent voter.

And Ava Reynolds, a Democrat from Michigan, wrote that she found one thing to be happy about: It’s one step closer to the end of the election.

Three years ago, Michael Flynn, a retired general and former Trump adviser who has become an idol of the right, took over a small nonprofit organization. Soon the group was paying him and his family members more than half a million dollars annually. My colleagues David Fahrenthold, who studies nonprofits, and Alexandra Berzon, who studies right-wing movements, recently wrote about the lucrative side of Flynn’s celebrity. I asked Alexandra to tell us more about the little-known group that pays Flynn – a group that has long been a surrogate for the right wing’s au courant.

Seventy-five years ago, a group of businessmen worried that communism was taking over this country founded a small charity called America’s Future. They warned that American schools produced only “shitless, duck-tailed, unwashed, leather-jacketed sluts” who could easily defeat the communists.

Since then, the group has continued to change as it aligned itself with popular right-wing causes of the time.

As Phyllis Schlafly, a leading right-wing anti-feminist activist, became increasingly influential in the organization beginning in the 1970s, her material called for a review of curricula to ensure that children were taught about traditional gender roles. In the 1990s, a single Schlafly employee distributed conservative essays – along with limericks – to radio stations. And then things stayed pretty quiet for a while.

The organization was something of a blank slate at the time, but it had a pedigree and fortune when Ed Martin, a former state Republican Party chairman who had been associated with Schlafly, took over. Martin, who did not respond to our attempts to contact him, then became an important promoter and supporter of Flynn.

Martin soon handed over the organization to Flynn. Leading influencers helping spread QAnon and related causes have joined the board. And it has been aligned with the next phase of far-right conspiracy ideology: the false idea that there is a shadowy cabal of high-ranking officials involved in the exploitation and trafficking of children.

The group holds trainings across the country, and I recently attended one in rural Ohio — although I had to leave as soon as I introduced myself to Flynn and told him I was a reporter.

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2024-06-24 22:03:17