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No More Debates

In Cleveland, our national humiliation continued.
September 30, 2020
Featured Image
CLEVELAND, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 29: U.S. President Donald Trump and former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speak during the first presidential debate at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University on September 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. This is the first of three planned debates between the two candidates in the lead up to the election on November 3. (Photo by Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Images)

What a spectacle. What an embarrassment. What a disgrace.

Yes, some observers can criticize Chris Wallace’s performance as moderator. Others can point out that Joe Biden wasn’t always as quick or as sharp as he might have been. But let’s not fall into the trap of some sort of fake even-handedness.

Tuesday’s debate in Cleveland was a disgrace because of the behavior of one man, Donald Trump. The interrupting and the bullying, the absence of both decency and dignity—those were Donald Trump’s distinctive contributions to the evening, and they gave the affair the rare and sickening character of a national humiliation.

There should be no more “debates.” For the sake of the country, Joe Biden should refuse to appear again on the same stage as Donald Trump. Biden can have weekly or twice weekly town halls, including with Trump supporters. He can do all manner of interviews and forums. He can make clear he’s happy to engage with the American public in all kinds of ways. But he should not put the nation through another ordeal like that.

Let Tuesday night have been Trump’s final, disreputable appearance on a nationally televised stage. Let him conduct the rest of his campaign desperately yelling to crowds of true believers as his defeat grows ever nearer.

As for the debate’s effect on the horse race, I suspect Biden ended up benefitting. Trump was surely off-putting to any but those true believers who were already for him. So the odds of a Trump comeback are, I would judge, lower now than they have ever been.

Biden supporters should welcome this result. But Americans of all stripes should be ashamed of what we saw—what the world saw—on Tuesday night.

Donald Trump is a shameful figure.

But that he will have been our 45th president is our shame as a nation.

William Kristol

William Kristol is editor-at-large of The Bulwark.