How Biden could reverse his fortunes—or fail!—in his first debate with Trump

America has a legendary debate tradition. There were seven Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, held in the run-up to the election to a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois. There were debates about creationism, about women’s suffrage, and about prohibition. And in 1960, the nation gathered around the electronic fireplace to watch Vice President Richard M. Nixon go head-to-head with Senator John F. Kennedy. That series of meetings—the the first televised debate between presidential candidates—will kick off what has become a quadrennial spectacle. On debate nights, a large number of voters began to really pay attention to the race for the White House.

And it’s no exaggeration to say that this could be the most consequential presidential debate in American political history. Because American democracy is, quite literally, at stake. And because two very possible outcomes could dramatically change the trajectory of the race.

The first is that, contrary to the current narrative, Joe Biden appear to be a candidate who is dynamic, coherent, sharp, focused, energetic and strong, at the same time Donald Trump looks confused, disoriented, stumbling and old. That would put Biden back in the groove of a competitive race.

The second possibility is that Trump just crushes Biden. That Biden is cognitively impaired and distracted reinforces the Republican Party’s already prevalent narrative about his age. And Trump just attacked him, one haymaker after another, with Biden getting beaten by three points.

Of course, the other, perhaps most likely, scenarios are that they both do well, or do equally poorly, or bloody each other, and the race doesn’t change much.

But those are the risks for Biden and that’s why I give Credit to him and his team for throwing deep. Because they have to. This isn’t classic Green Bay Packers timing — run up the middle a yard or two at a time. This is the hour for West Coast attacks, fleas, and dramas about the Statue of Liberty.

The reason why debates can be so dramatic and interesting is because there is no internet. if you fall, you hit the floor. The difference is that, thanks to MAGA-based fanaticism, Trump can get up from the floor if he is the one who falls. Because his supporters will somehow rationalize it all. Says the whole thing is a deepfake. Say it was rigged. Let’s say he won before they even turned on the mic.

On the other hand, if Biden falters in this first round, Democratic bedwetting could become a fire hose. And I know that’s not the strategy Team Biden intends, but in this scenario, there could really be a clamor among delegates and party officials for a plan B at the convention.

There’s no shortage of experts providing valuable insight into how both can win or lose this marquee event. But I think there’s a surefire way for Biden to come out on top.

Let’s paint Trump as a loser. Stage.

Trump is all about psychology. He is a mess of narcissism. It’s always been about him. Initially, he ran for president not because he thought he could win (he didn’t), but because he wanted attention. He wants to be the center of attention. And he knows the best way to get the biggest, brightest, hottest spotlight in the world is to run for president.

Everything for Trump is about being a winner. Or to put it more clearly, about Are not is a loser. And Biden, for example, can make a very real and effective case that, when it comes to jobs, Trump is a dismal failure. Worst thing since Hoover. There was less work when he left than when he started. Meanwhile, in this regard, Biden is one of the most successful presidents in history.

Time and time again, Biden, throughout the debate, was able to calmly and consistently criticize a thin-skinned Trump about being the biggest loser of all time. Pick two or three issues: the failed response to the pandemic, his antipathy toward NATO, his support for extremists, his chaotic first term, two impeachments and 34 felonies. Just poke, prod and support, I believe Trump will clarify.

Biden bet everything on his belief that he could survive 15 rounds. Good for him. Now put on your gloves and swing.

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