Hold the panic—Two positive Dem scenarios emerge from the Biden debate debacle 

Either Biden reassures voters that exposed defects won’t impair four more years in power – or approval numbers plunge and he withdraws, thus opening the field.


Dems now pay for a squandered primary that would have confirmed (or exposed) Biden’s cognitive fitness

Gloom and doom, the knee-jerk dogma of Trumpworld and end-of-days fanatics, have now descended on panicked, quick-to-dump Democrats – understandably distraught after Biden’s shocking debate. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and I see potentially positive outcomes from a belated focus that establishes (or undercuts) Biden’s cognitive future. Either Biden reassures voters that exposed defects won’t impair four more years in power – or his approval numbers plunge and he withdraws, thus opening the field to younger, more vibrant, verbal and charismatic alternatives to the existential Menace-in-chief. 

However much evidence he eventually dispatched, Biden botched the first rule of American TV spectacles: laurels go to the better Performer-in-chief, even Entertainer-in-chief. Biden stumbled on predictable questions and missed a fistful of softball chances to demolish the vulnerable Liar-in-chief – who hardly had a good night if (yet) expanding his electorate is the paramount measure. 

So not yet time to concede that Biden is done for (call me skeptical until more data arrives) or that the come-back kid (recall early 2020 primaries) has no chance to find ways to reestablish steadfast competence (call me optimistic). The State-of-the-Union triumph was only months ago and positive diplomacy in Europe only weeks ago – far more typical WH action than debate savvy or edge. The instant Biden-withdraw argument holds water but only if matching bad news arrives. Withdrawal would produce a major party disruption, throwing out a known known, however flawed, for a world of unknown knowns and unknown unknowns. Until polling says otherwise, Biden is still the strongest Dem against Trump – though attractive governors from PA or Mich, or Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, when better known, will impress capricious, critical-state independents.

“It’s the party totals, stupid”

Part of me wonders, were Biden not to recoup, how much it matters in key races whom the Dems run (especially in keeping the Senate and regaining the House). As always, key outcomes depend on party loyalty and turnout, thus I distrust current polling as not reliable or predictive of the finale. Brace for far more high drama, even Black Swans, before November. Not only does polling so far confirm the race is neck and neck, but I project JFK jr. steals more votes from Trump than Biden – a palpable known unknown.  

Then there’s the high likelihood an overconfident Trump goes even more bonkers (or exposes more of his huge, greater cognitive issues), making the healthier (if less verbal) Biden look stronger and saner. Unless a national Dem candidate with high clout emerges, who can anticipate overall electoral dynamics (greatly a function of money, visibility and staffing, all stringent tests for any new player)? No doubt this Democratic muddle leaves us with only opinions or guesses about what sticking with or changing horses means. Whatever, I am not panicking and I defy signals from high anxiety, especially dicey when doing the impossible: accurately predicting the future, whether one month or four months out (call me agnostic).

Historically, debates have almost never been make-or-break events, even more so this early. How many undecideds pay high attention in June? How many voters think quick, slick repartee (never Biden’s strength) correlates with the skill-set to lead, get strong legislation passed (Biden gets an unexpected A here), or deal with crises not with biased gut instinct but with judgment, knowledge and wisdom. Judging by Covid, racial tensions, and denial of election results, Trump is a blundering, criminal crisis parade, not only failing to resolve problems but making things worse by inciting chaos, scandals, and soap opera circuses. As Rebecca Solnit scribbled on Facebook, “Being sparkly and charismatic onstage has nothing to do with the job of president.” Well, not nothing but hardly everything — or enough to disqualify after one dreadful night. 

What most anticipated as either a bizarre circus, a flurry of fireworks or a cringe-inducing shit show turned out far more disturbing for Dems but as yet unclear whether a big boost for Trump. While lying, misinformation and manipulation perfectly fit Trump’s WH tenure House (and the next if he wins), there’s now a huge cognitive dissonance between how Biden debated and his otherwise competent, scandal-free, productive presidency. Indeed, it is this dissonance that makes folks wonder who in the world thought an early debate against Teflon Trump such a great idea, especially soon after exhausting European diplomatic trips? Maybe Biden was just exhausted, though why he flubbed easy chances still gnashes teeth. 

Of relevance is the odd overlap in malaise now afflicting both sides. Trumpers are told to feel and believe – that if they don’t get to rule, what’s already sweepingly bad will descend to unspeakably worse. Now Democrats are terrified over Biden’s ability to maneuver around his serial blunders. An inarticulate, halting Biden was no match for the existential threat to America, as it’s impossible to debate a slick wordsmith whose confident style obscured a void of substance and relevance. 

Good faith stunned by a B.S. fire hose

As usual, Trump leans hard on two appallingly corrupt ploys: the Gish gallop and chronic gaslighting. With scatter-gun arrays, the Gish gallop is dishonest debate trickery by which one bombastically tries to overwhelm with countless, distracting contentions full of malicious lies and nasty non-sequiturs – both hard to refute succinctly. Gaslighting is using manipulative bluster to undermine an audience’s confidence in its reason, sanity, or common sense. Throw in the fire hose of Trumpian demagoguery – verbal absolutism, loaded catch-phrases, bizarre obfuscation, and intimidating blackmail – and voila! the iconic, undebatable TV reality star/master conman. Gish galloping alone befuddles a good faith opponent who hardly knows where to begin grappling with the truckloads of crapola that crash over the rostrum.

Also relevant is Brandolini’s law, a.k.a. the bullshit asymmetry principle – a 2013 coinage by which Italian Alberto Brandolini quipped that the “amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it.” Ditto, echoing Koomey’s law, “An idiot can create more bullshit than you could ever hope to refute.” And Trump is your idiot politician par excellence, able to compress more nonsense propaganda in NY second than a professional trash compactor. 

So, even if Biden were at his best, how does any non-con man sufficiently offset the tsunami of Trumpist eruptions to leave the debate alive. That Biden needlessly blundered badly is a concern, but not a stake in the heart of a long career unless one proves 1) that bad debate performances, especially very early ones, doom major candidates; 2) that a sufficient number of leaning-Biden voters in the most important states were so disturbed they’ll sit it out; or 3) enough conclude that being a good debater directly correlates with being a strong president. I await fact-based responses. I do worry that traditional Dems, especially minority men, are too put off to vote; I doubt many will all of a sudden rush to Trump, but that’s a critical dimension by November. 

One awful at bat, even one inning, rarely determines the world series winner – and the grinding national campaign, far beyond the presidency, favors the committed tortoise with better turnout over the rampaging, scatter-brained hare with a fixed support ceiling. Though I welcome a new face with strengths and much less baggage (and accept the inevitable disorder), I endorse what one wag quipped, that Biden (or any lead Dem, I add) on his worst day greatly surpasses the totalitarian, democracy-smashing Trump on his best day (if there were one). 

The solution to this mess? The best response to panic or despair is to help get out the vote, with donations, postcards (my latest regime), canvassing and continued support of the only rational, humane, adult party in the running. The alternative: a war of chaos.


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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.