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(CNN)If you haven’t yet read about how President Donald Trump bullied, badgered and interrupted his way through an excruciating 90-minute presidential debate Wednesday night, there’s plenty of outrage to choose from.
Trump’s refusal to abide by debate rules turned the showdown, supposed to allow candidates to present their policies and showcase their styles, into one long, horrible talkshow.
The single most common question I got in emails from you: Why didn’t moderator Chris Wallace have a mute button to stop Trump’s interruptions?
The Commission on Presidential Debates has promised more “structure” in the coming sessions
— a nice gesture but meaningless the second Trump opens his mouth to interrupt or talk over his opponent, Democratic nominee Joe Biden
A dark undercurrent.
But perhaps the most insidious message from Trump
, aside from his active courtship of white supremacists, was his effort, before a worldwide audience, to poison the idea of democracy.
Biden encouraged everyone to vote and promised to accept the election results. The President did the opposite, on both counts.
Trump went after mail-in ballots — Ripe for a fraud!, he said, repeating previous false claims and undercutting people who don’t want to go to the polls.
He went after in-person voting — Needs to be watched!, he said, and encouraged his supporters to go to the polls and watch everyone else vote, code, suggesting there would be fraud there too, and inviting the kind of voter intimidation that had the GOP on a sort of probation from the 1980s until this year.
If the Russians are looking for cues on how to help his campaign (or they just want to disrupt American democracy), they got a pretty good idea from Trump of the messages to push, according to an analysis by David Sanger in The New York Times
There’s no evidence of any large-scale fraud, of course, but Trump doesn’t want to dwell on those facts. He wants chaos. And that’s what he’ll get if the people who believe what he says show up en masse because the President told them to.
There are rules to prevent chaos.
Trump’s ignoring them. Nearly every state has rules and restrictions on who and how many official poll watchers can keep tabs on polling places. In Alabama, for instance, there can be one watcher per party per polling place. And they must registered in that county. See the rules for every state here
In Pennsylvania, each campaign can have two and each party can have three. A disagreement over those rules and how they’re applied in Pennsylvania got Trump poll watchers ejected from an early voting site in Philadelphia, which had Trump howling fraud at the debate.
But he mischaracterized each of the perceived injustices he mentioned, according to Daniel Dale and CNN’s Fact Check team
It’s not just Trump encouraging his supporters to show up at polls. His campaign has been challenging rules in key states
as it plans an extensive and aggressive poll-watching program.
Literally antidemocratic. His effort to undercut the vote is the kind of thing the US complains about in other countries, according to the author Nina Jankowicz, who has observed foreign elections.
“Election observation is not something anyone can simply *go and do.* It requires training. It requires restraint. The fact that the President is encouraging his supporters to ‘go and watch’ is inviting voter intimidation and potentially violence,” she wrote.
“One of the things we look for when we are visiting polling stations in foreign countries is large crowds that are clearly there to agitate for one party or another. This is an indication that something is very wrong, that one group is trying to keep another away from the polls.”
And while I’ve seen the argument that substance was drowned out of the debate, I disagree.
Trump’s substance was on full display when he:
- refused to condemn a white supremacist group, leading them to celebrate
- further questioned the legitimacy of US elections
- called his supporters to polling places, raising the specter of posses to intimidate voters in US cities
- repeatedly lied and misled about the Covid outbreak and whether people should wear masks
- continually attacked Biden’s son, Hunter, even right after Biden brought up his dead son, Beau
- essentially confirmed he paid almost no federal income tax and then bragged about it
- insulted Biden’s intelligence
It’s not like Biden was particularly excellent at the debate. His answers weren’t particularly crisp, his policy proposals weren’t clearly related as they are on his website and he wouldn’t distance himself from either ending the filibuster in the Senate or court packing as ways around Republican policy roadblocks.
He mostly laughed off or ignored Trump’s bait, focusing instead on the feckless Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor who couldn’t control his network’s favored candidate, and laughing off insult after insult.
But there were flashes of frustration from Biden, as he told Trump to “shut up” and then, later, called him a “clown.”
The debate won’t be remembered for Biden, however, because Trump intentionally tried to dominate every exchange.
Alternate universe —
They watched something very different on Fox News, as CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote
. The conservative news channel morphed into pro-Trump propaganda after the debate concluded.
“Throughout the hour, (Sean) Hannity and his guests continued to depict Biden as a senile old man — a notion that has been promoted by the conservative network for weeks — who lost the face-off. Meanwhile, they portrayed Trump as a fearless warrior,” he wrote.
Three more debates? There will now be legitimate questions about whether, if Trump feels the need to just rip up debate rules and talk all over Biden, there should be more debates.
But Biden almost surely won’t pull out of any debate for fear of showing weakness.
Next up: The vice presidential debate, between Democrat Kamala Harris and Republican Mike Pence, is next Wednesday, October 7.
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