Do Debates Even Matter in This Election?
September 29’s debate was universally panned as many things not suitable for virgin ears. Honestly, I don’t disagree.
I had no plans on watching it because they are almost always uninteresting, low-information theater. Last night was no exception.
Both camps are doing their best to put the best spin on it they can but a couple of observations I think are salient:
- Biden was as good as he was ever going to be
- Trump was as bad as he could possibly have been
- Chris Wallace was there to make sure Biden stayed on script
- The format and questions were all softballs for Biden
In that context here’s the big question for partisans (of which I’m one), “Do these debates even matter?” And my cynical answer is, “No. They don’t.”
But the more nuanced one is that yes, they do. They matter for one important reason.
People don’t vote based on what candidates say but how they say what they say.
That’s why televised debates are such an important part of a campaign and why they can be turning points in an election.
Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Righteous Mind, laid out a metaphor for how the brain processes information and communicates it to the world.
It boils down to the Elephant and the Rider. Your hindbrain or right-brain is the Elephant. It’s the unconscious mind which makes all the real decisions.
The Rider is the forebrain or left-brain and it’s like the press secretary for the Elephant. It thinks it’s in charge, pulling on the reins of what it’s convinced itself is a quarter-horse directing your behavior and your decisions.
It tells you, and more importantly the world, that you’re rational and that you are consciously in control of your decisions.
But the reality is The Rider sits on top of The Elephant who is charging ahead because it’s already made its decision.
The Rider then just makes up why as The Elephant tramples forward.
Why is this important to the debates?
This is, in essence, why debates matter. Elephants vote.
And this take on last night’s “shitshow” is the correct one.
There is an army of DNC operatives out there today trying to tell you that Trump lost the debate or that he lied and here are the fact-checks to prove it and all that rotten nonsense.
Those are riders desperately talking to those whose elephants already decided they hate Trump for whatever reason they have. Trump Derangement Syndrome is real.
It won’t change one vote.
What Trump did last night was to project competence and strength. His best moments were when he looked at Biden and said, “Joe what are you talking about? I just had this guy in my office last week….”
Those moments translate to the Elephants on all sides of the political spectrum that Trump is in control of his office, is informed and despite all of his faults as a person is right on top of the issues.
This is strength of leadership. It’s alpha male stuff. Trump made the case loud and clear in the first 30 minutes of the debate that he is President, does the job well, and won’t apologize for running the country the way he does.
In a time when there’s crazy violence in the streets, millions unemployed and rightfully worried about tomorrow not ten years from now, that’s pretty much all he had to do.
All Biden could do was mumble about raising taxes and being fearful of more COVID-19.
Elephants look at that and see weakness not leadership.
All the talk about decorum and shouting over each other is irrelevant. Decorum is for dinner parties. People tune in to the debates to decide who will lead them not who will play by some arbitrary set of rules.
And the more Chris Wallace tried to put Trump in his place the more obvious it was to everyone’s Elephant that this was not a level playing field.
Now, as far as this election goes we may not need anymore of this events for one simple reason. Ratings.
The ratings for the 2016 debates were record-setting. They needed to be. So few people had actually seen more than a sound-byte of Trump that they needed to tune in to allow their Elephants to get a measure of him.
By the end of the first debate Trump went from Nazi to ‘pretty ok’ in a lot of voters’ minds.
By the end of the last debate and the five words that won him the election, Trump sealed the deal with millions of undecided Elephants. He moved them with those words and that pugnacious attitude he has.
This year all he has to do is show those same people that he’s just as much a fighter today after four years of endless screeching and lying as he was then.
This adds to an observation I saw on Twitter yesterday about the ratings which struck my Elephant as correct.
Brian may not like what I’m about to report.
The poor ratings for last night’s debate tell me that there are a lot of Elephants out there that didn’t need reassuring.
The first presidential debate of 2020 was widely panned by most observers — and is on track to draw a far smaller audience than the record-setting first debate four years ago.
Fast national ratings for the broadcast networks show the debate gathering 28.82 million viewers across ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — a decline of 36 percent from 2016. Four years ago, the big four networks tallied 45.3 million viewers in the preliminary ratings, rising to 49.33 million after time zone adjustments for the live broadcast.
And if that CBS Poll is an anomaly in this election cycle, namely that it’s in any way accurate, then there is little need to go forward with any more of these because it only gets worse for Joe Biden from here…
… no matter what the Riders in the Twitterati have to say about it.