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Would this debate have a winner?

A Biden-Trump debate seems like a bad idea for all who would be involved

A combination of Oct. 22, 2020, pictures of then-President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic rival Joe Biden during their final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
A combination of Oct. 22, 2020, pictures of then-President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic rival Joe Biden during their final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. (Brendan Smialowski/Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

During his recent interview on Howard Stern’s radio show, President Joe Biden said he was willing to participate in a debate with former president Donald Trump.

“I’m happy to debate him,” responded the sitting president to the host’s question.

Trump immediately fired back with a post on Truth Social, his preferred social media platform. “Everyone knows he doesn’t really mean it,” said Trump about Biden’s willingness to debate. “But in case he does, I say, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME, ANYPLACE.”

Trump even said that he was prepared to debate that evening.

The idea that Biden might agree to a debate that very night – without the usual time to prepare – only reminds voters that Trump is more concerned with repeating his claim that the 2020 election was stolen and calling people names rather than preparing for a serious political event.

Trump’s bravado about taking on Biden in a series of debates stood in marked contrast to his position on debates during the contest for the Republican presidential nomination, when the former president declined to participate at all.

I don’t know if Biden’s position on debates during the general election reflected a well-thought-out position or was merely a knee-jerk response. But the idea of a Biden versus Trump debate seems like a bad idea for all who would be involved.

Biden looks and sounds significantly older – and frailer – than he did during the two 2020 presidential debates. The physical contrast won’t help Biden.

I suppose a debate would allow Biden to address the age issue in a clever way, much as Ronald Reagan did during his debate against Walter Mondale. But Biden participating in a verbal wrestling match with the always uncontrollable Trump strikes me as extremely risky.

If there is a debate (or debates), Trump is sure to complain how he was treated in the 2020 election. In fact, as early as the first 2020 debate, Trump warned, “As far as the ballots are concerned, it’s a disaster.” In the 2020 debates, Trump often looked belligerent and out of control. He interrupted Biden frequently, and he fought with moderator Chris Wallace almost as often as he argued with Biden.

Trump was so out of control that during the second debate the candidates’ microphones were shut off after two minutes.

And, as always, Trump made stuff up. It’s hard to see how his participation in a debate would help him appeal to suburbanites and swing voters. Those voters tend to want someone who is measured and thoughtful, two words rarely associated with Trump.

Of course, whether either or both men will debate depends on where the race stands when decisions must be made.

There are so many contradictory polls that it’s difficult to know exactly where the 2024 presidential race now stands. Does Trump have a comfortable lead nationally, as the most recent CNN survey shows, or is the race close to a dead heat, as the most recent CBS News national and swing-state surveys suggest?

Is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. a factor in the race, and would he qualify to participate in a debate?

Debates are a terrible way to evaluate what kind of president the contenders will be, but it’s one of the few times we can compare the candidates. That’s why so many people watch.

Few presidential decisions need to be made on the spur of the moment, the way they have to be made in a live televised debate. Picking a president is about selecting someone who is smart, knowledgeable, thoughtful, analytical and level-headed. It’s about candidates who surround themselves with the right people and have both near-term and long-term perspectives.

Increasingly, of course, voters see what they want to see – no matter how the candidates perform. A stumble by Biden here or there is likely to be hugely controversial, both among members of the media and Republicans. Misstatements by Trump are likely to be brushed off as unimportant by his supporters.

I’m not sure that we will see one, two or more debates this year, but it’s likely that if we do, they will be less informative and eye-opening than past presidential debates were. Trump guarantees a certain level of chaos, while Biden’s horrible poll numbers raise questions as to whether swing voters will even hear him.

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