There were two debates last night

We lost both of them

The one saving grace today is that research shows that presidential debates don’t really matter much — as in, they do not seem to convince an appreciable number of voters to change their minds, at least not very often.1  

That’s pretty much the only good thing I have to say about last night’s debate. Everyone knows it was bad. The question for us here — the service I think I can provide for you — is to examine exactly how it was bad. Because while the aesthetic takes floating around about Biden’s performance are absolutely correct (he looked and sounded extremely old, was deathly lethargic, and kept tripping over his words), I think there are deeper things to say, which might in turn tell us more about the ways the remainder of this campaign — and the years that follow it — could unfold.

The Racket depends on the support of readers like you.
To get it delivered and support my work, get a free or premium subscription today.

For me, I found myself feeling as if I were watching two separate debates, being held simultaneously in the same CNN studio in Midtown Atlanta. One pitted Donald Trump against reality and a complacent pair of moderators. The other pitted Joe Biden against himself. Everyone lost.

The entire set-up was a problem. Much was made of the novel muting system, which was used to prevent Trump from speaking over Biden, as he had done in 2020. But the moderators, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, also decided (I have heard this was in the agreed-upon rules between CNN and the campaigns in this unprecedented, single-network debate) that they would not fact-check any of Trump’s lies in real-time, no matter how obvious or absurd his deceptions got. Most importantly, the questions were seemingly written, fixed, and ordered as if Trump were a normal candidate — a standard-issue Republican with …

Subscribe to The Racket to read the rest.

Become a paying subscriber of The Racket to get access to this post and other subscriber-only content.

Already a paying subscriber? Sign In

A subscription gets you:
Get exclusive posts available only to premium subscribers
Access the full Racket archive going back to 2019
Special access and behind-the-scenes insights
Keep independent journalism alive. Don't let the bastards get us down.

Join the conversation

or to participate.