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Thoughts on Thursday's debate

Guest post by Fred Register

It was a bad night, no question; a really bad night. The most optimistic thing I can say is that this race has been incredibly stable for many months now. So I think it plausible that the debate will have a much smaller impact than seems likely now in the immediate aftermath. Voters know both men extremely well and are locked in — including those who don’t like either of them. If we are to believe the polls, most of these “double-haters” were already dubious of Biden’s age and ability. Last night he had a chance to ease that concern and he failed badly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean many minds were changed. It could be that, for the undecided, the night simply confirmed what they already believed. So, while this was a missed opportunity, the critical question may be whether Trump did anything to change their minds about him — and I’m not sure that he did. His flaws were certainly very much on display. We’ll see over the next few weeks.

If it turns out that the race remains essentially unchanged, there are some reasons to hope. Many of those locked in for Trump are somewhat less likely to vote. A sense among their base that he's now a shoo-in could make it even harder to motivate those so-so voters. Conversely, any lingering sense of “it couldn’t possibly happen” will now be replaced with desperation among Democrats. Fear could focus minds and juice efforts to turn out our vote. Since many of the “double haters” are naturally Democrats by normal indicators (young, minority, etc.) it could be that, as the decision date approaches and people must make a hold-your-nose choice, they will be more prone to lean away from the very real threat of Trump and toward Biden. And, finally, whatever else happens I think a buoyant, over-confident Trump could easily start talking and acting in a way that really alarms people during the critical last few months when they finally start to pay serious attention.

While I understand the panic and the instinct to seek another candidate, that ship has sailed. There is no such solution unless Biden wants to/is willing to sanction it — and he doesn’t. That was crystal clear from today’s post-debate events but it really should surprise no one who has followed Biden over the years. If the fallout is severe (with voters, not pundits) over the next few weeks there might be a remote possibility that he changes his mind but I sincerely doubt it.

Though I think the discussion is moot, I do have an opinion: switching candidates would be exciting and attention-getting but would almost certainly lead to a loss. We may be headed for one anyway, but I think the odds are better if we take a deep breath and double-down on our efforts to beat Trump. The insurmountable problem is that there is no consensus alternative to Biden, not even close. So we would endure a beyond-messy convention fight with almost no time afterward to heal the wounds. Then a relatively unknown and untested candidate would be thrown into the deepest of deep ends with a prickly/embittered White House and no campaign team/infrastructure of his/her own,

If things get so bad that even Joe Biden and his family see this gloomy scenario as our best option, then we will probably already be well past the point of no return.

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