Showdown in a Studio: The Biden/Trump Debate

by | Jun 24, 2024 | Opinion

Washington, D.C. – It’s the contest almost no one has been waiting for. In a few days former President Donald J. Trump and President Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., will face each other in the first two agreed-upon debates.

It’s not the best forum for either man. If previous performance is any guide, Biden will come across as old and tired, will wander, and will have little to say that is of substance. Instead, he’ll go long on phrases like “convicted felon,” “business fraud,” indictment,” and “January 6.” As a side note, if you’re planning a beer BINGO game while you watch, ensure those phrases are on your card.

Trump also has a lot to say, much of it negative. The country is in far worse shape than at the end of his presidency. Inflation has increased prices, mortgage rates are up significantly, and consumer confidence is down.

We all know the numbers. A debate between the two seems almost pointless. What’s there to gain? It’s predictable that the post-debate polling will show Democrats’ opposition to Trump hardening while GOP dislike for Biden will grow. But that’s only part of why Trump should decide at the last minute that he won’t participate.

As political advice goes, that may seem like an outrageous idea. But think carefully before drawing that conclusion. Trump goes into his showdown with Biden like Mick Jagger taking center stage at a concert with his lips sewn shut. Thanks to the gag orders put in place by New York City judges and prosecutors, he can’t freely debate the issues in the campaign, one of which happens to be the honesty and integrity of the two men running for president.

If that wasn’t clear before, it should be now that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg had the audacity to request the gag order be extended and expanded by various officials involved in the civil and criminal litigation to which Trump is a party have received threats from what has been called but apparently not proven to be the former president’s supporters.

That’s not okay. Even if it’s true that Trump supporters have phoned in or emailed death threats directed at Bragg or at either of the New York judges in front of whom the former president has appeared, that doesn’t make any of it his fault. Yet Bragg has contemptibly asked Trump to be penalized for that, just as he torturously turned a misdemeanor charge of falsifying a business record upon which the statute of limitations had run out by connecting it to an unidentified, unspecified, speciously conceived felony.

Many folks out there think none of that matters. That’s certainly what his political opponents want them to think. They want the focus solely on whether he paid off a porn star to remain silent about an alleged encounter between them. He did it, or he didn’t – and the jury in New York said he did, end of conversation, vote for Biden. (RELATED: NICHOLS: There’s Nothing Progressive About Ignoring Reality)

There’s more to it than that. A lot more. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, former federal Judge Michael McConnell, who called the hush-money payoff charges against Trump “bogus,” opined that all the cases the former president is fighting or fighting off are examples of the party in power “Using the criminal-justice system to handicap the opposing political party is a deep-dyed violation of democratic norms—something we expect from authoritarian regimes, not in a mature, well-functioning democracy.”

Moreover, because the gag order prevents Trump from talking about much of this, and Biden is sure to bring it up, a single state’s judicial branch has denied him the ability to exercise his right to free speech in a political context without the possibility of significant sanction. He might not get locked up, but it could prove very costly.

It’s not a stretch by any means to suspect there are already people out there waiting for the debate, all set to count and publicize the number of times Trump violates the gag order. They’ll scream and cry from the heavens about the perversion of democracy and how Trump is making a mockery of the judicial process by ignoring the command he muzzle up, remaining silent in the face of Biden attacks.

Nobody said life is fair. We expect some rough and tumble in American political life. Too many of those out among the elites think politics should have its own set of Marquess of Queensbury rules to keep things civil and high-brow. Those are the people who should be yelling the loudest about the effective violations of Trump’s constitutional rights. As highly educated as they are, they ought to be able to see for themselves that democracy doesn’t “die in darkness,” as one failing major metropolitan daily now claims. It’s dying out in the open right in front of us.

You don’t have to like Trump or approve of his agenda to see what’s happening. The Democrats are using the levers of power to which they have access to preserve their hold on power.

“If Democrats want to be taken seriously when they claim to be defending democracy,” Judge McConnell wrote, “they should take a long, hard look in the mirror and see the damage they are doing.” he wrote. So, too, should the independents who are probably disgusted by both candidates and in whose hands the power to decide the outcome of the upcoming election probably rests.

That’s why Trump should skip what everyone should see as a rigged debate. If he doesn’t, he needs to exercise message discipline, always ready to default again to the phrase:  “As much as I’d like to address that, the gag order imposed on me by a New York judge prevents me from responding to Mr. Biden’s fallacious attack. Instead, let me talk more about how to Make America Great Again, Again.” It’s his only other option.

An experienced journalist and commentator who has contributed to various media outlets and engaged in political analysis, Peter Roff is a former UPI and U.S. News columnist who regularly talks about U.S. politics on television. You can reach him at RoffColumns AT and follow him on social media @TheRoffDraft.

NEXT: SHARP: America Didn’t Lose a Fair Media, America Sold its Fair Media

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