Lapointe: Debate rules could tongue-tie Trump

Gun Rights

The most intriguing development from the political campaign last week was that President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will debate at least twice before Election Day on Nov. 5.

The best night might be the first, on June 27 in Atlanta, when Trump will perform with one figurative, forked tongue tied behind his back. This is due to Biden baiting Trump into debate rules that might make Trump seem even battier than he already is. Or they might backfire on Biden.

Unless Trump backs out of his agreement — always a possibility — Trump won’t be allowed to bring his pep-rally cheering section into the audience; and he won’t be able to interrupt and shout over the president because microphones will automatically shut off when it is the other guy’s turn to talk.

At least that is what they are sort of telling us so far in a tentative deal. If this rule gets strictly enforced by a machine or a human at all times in the debate it would prevent Trump from loudly stomping verbally over his debate foe with his routine barrage of lies, character assassination, and fear-mongering.

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Imagine an electric buzzer — or a moderator like Jake Tapper of CNN — demanding sudden silence from the same indicted man who has been fined 10 times for violating a gag order in a New York court trial on a felony rap. Imagine Trump ranting into a dead mic, his voice echoing through a mostly empty room as the President of the United States tries to speak.

But if Tapper and fellow referee Dana Bash cannot control Trump — and whoever has? — he will no doubt try to turn the telecast into his usual combination of pro wrestling, reality TV, and running down the United States of America.

Consider some of what Trump said, unchallenged, in a National Rifle Association speech Saturday in Texas. For a guy who claims to love his country, Trump sure seems to have a low opinion of it.

“We have become a drug-infested, crime-ridden nation,” Trump said in his “woe-are-we” tone of voice while his background music created a melancholy mood, sort of a soft moan or groan, a level below his normal bombast.

“. . . Large packs of sadistic criminals and thieves go into stores . . . to kill workers and customers,” Trump continued. “ . .. Our economy is collapsing into a cesspool of ruin . . . Our education system ranks at the bottom . . .”

A different perspective came Sunday from Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a Biden supporter, who recalled on the talk shows how Trump turned the first debate in 2020 into an exchange of shouts, insults, and interruptions.

“What Donald Trump likes is a carnival-like atmosphere,” he told ABC’s Martha Raddatz. “He’s more of an entertainer than a serious debater on the issues . . . He wants to create this sort of atmosphere of a circus-like entertainment . . . Donald Trump likes to talk trash.”

In that Trump’s trash talk prompted Biden four years ago to mutter under his breath that Trump was a “clown” who should “shut up,” the Senator was asked if that would be the proper way to again react to Trump this time around.

“When Donald Trump is being a complete jerk,” Van Hollen said, “then I can understand the President of the United States responding.”

Even those who hate Trump (there could be a few) must admit he is accomplished at what he does: He knows how to rouse the rabble. At his televised Make America Great Again rallies (I’ve attended and watched too many) his red-hatted Magats stand behind him and smirk while he spews invective.

In his speech to the gun groomers Saturday, Trump’s conclusion included an awkward, 30-second pause — Did he lose his script? — as the soundtrack began to play that weird, gloomy, strings-and-piano music he’s been using lately under the final lines of his speeches.

Trump portrays himself as an American patriot who just happens to condemn the American judicial system, the elites, the college professors, the college campus protesters, the vermin, the Marxists-Socialists-Communists-Globalists, the illegal immigrants, the media as “enemy of the people,” and — last but not least — all those imaginary convicts and lunatics from prisons and insane asylums in the Congo and elsewhere who are sneaking illegally across our borders and undermining our nation.

Seriously. Trump talks of them often. Just listen. This is the same performer who enjoys reciting song lyrics that end with “You knew darn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

“Fake news is all you get,” Trump continued on Saturday. “They are indeed the enemy of the people . . . Free speech no longer allowed . . . Crime is rampant and out of control, like never, ever before . . . We are a nation that in many ways has become a joke . . . Radical left terrorists violently attacking our cities . . . We are a third-world nation . . .”

Of course Trump gets away with this nonsense at his rallies and in right-wing media hits because no one dares ask him tough questions about subjects he doesn’t like. So he ducks abortion, an important issue which hurts Trump because he packed the Supreme Court with religious fundamentalists to abolish a constitutional right to choose.

But a moderator might force him to answer questions or at least make it obvious that he is dodging them. Of course Trump will bellyache that the questions are biased and loaded. Perhaps biased and loaded questions are perfectly in order for Trump (preferably under oath).

So let’s try a few. Pretend they are Artificial Intelligence questions belched out by a computer just for this debate:

• Mr. Trump, one of your ex-wives once testified that you kept a copy of Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler in your bedroom. What is your favorite chapter in Hitler’s famous book?

• Speaking of wives, sir, your current spouse is rarely seen with you in public. Why is this? Nor does she stand behind you at the courthouse door in the manner of those red-tied, Republican sycophants like Matt (Jailbait) Gaetz, the Congressman from Florida, who is auditioning for vice-Spresident by dressing up in a Donald Trump Halloween costume with a face mask that still looks like the face of Jethro Bodine of the Beverly Hillbillies? What’s up with that, Trump?

• Just between us fellas talking here in the locker room, Donald, do you wonder if she’s getting a little on the side while you freeze your fat, old, butt while sleeping upright on a hard chair in a gloomy courtroom in Lower Manhattan? (Heh-heh-heh; that’s a cheap shot.)

• Speaking of vice-presidential candidates, Mister Former Guy, are you disappointed that your former veep, Mike Pence, says he will not even vote for you this time? Is that sanctimonious holy man still angry with you for sending a lynch mob to Congress to murder him? So long ago!

• As for sudden and violent death, will you ever apologize for calling American soldiers “suckers” and “losers” for dying in foreign wars? It’s been reported you said this to John Kelly, your former chief of staff. He’s never denied it.

• Sir, you’ve often said of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping “I know them well.” You often imply that you can deal with them better than Biden. Should you return to the White House, sir, would you sell out our nation first to Russia or to China?

• Speaking of foreign relations, Mr. Trump, who would you betray first: Ukraine or Taiwan?

• In a court case, Mr. Trump, you were found responsible for sexual assault. You called the accuser a liar, and said you never even met her and that she wasn’t your “type.” You said similar things about porn star Stormy Daniels. Exactly what “type” of woman, sir, is your “type” for infidelity or for sexual assault?

• In that you used to support a woman’s right to choose, have you ever paid for an abortion, legally or illegally? Or was that one of Michael Cohen’s jobs?

No, don’t expect challenging questions like these in a debate or when Trump calls into local Detroit right-wing radio stations as he’s done this campaign. But even if he is mildly challenged in a national debate, Trump’s instinctive response might risk self-destruction on live TV.

His normal, bully-boy style of conversation is to out-shout a rival and keep interrupting. It is the Bill O’Reilly/Sean Hannity method in which the winner is whoever bellows the longest and the loudest to conclusion.

That kind of belligerence favors Trump and works well in some TV formats, like Fox News, but not so much in a presidential debate. Last time, Trump’s tantrums damaged his image. A more recent example came this year with the Republican primary debates that Trump avoided.

Among all the pretenders on all the stages, the most obnoxious was Vivek Ramaswamy, who simply would not shut up when he was supposed to. This annoyed everyone, including conservative Republicans who might have wanted to hear his ideas.

Also, keep in mind that Trump was so bellicose and rude in the first presidential debate in 2020 that a new rule was installed for the second debate: that microphones would go dead during the two-minute opening statement of the opponent.

Further definition of the “dead mic” rules this time around might make all the difference. So Trump is already monkeying with the debate rules, working the refs, making the grandiose demand that Biden take a drug test before their confrontation.

It amounts to the sequel of “Birtherism,” Trump’s entry-level smear in 2011 that President Obama was born in Africa. But this is how Trump creates a mud fight while digging for lower ground and sloppier terrain. He’s good at this.

So let this be a warning to Biden, even if the ground rules are momentarily in his favor. Trump is what George Bernard Shaw meant when he said “Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

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