Biden Throws Down Gauntlet In Taunting Trump To Debate

INSIDE: Michael Cohen ... Rudy G ... Angela Alsobrooks
President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI,JIM WATSON/... President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 22, 2020. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI,JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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A lot of things happened. Here are some of the things. This is TPM’s Morning Memo. Sign up for the email version.

President Abandons Existing Debate Commission

A lot going on with the chess move by President Biden this morning to try to outflank Donald Trump on the whole presidential debate dance thing.

I should show my cards right off the bat: I don’t think made-for-TV debates are anything close to sacrosanct; the made-for-TV debates of the past several cycles have strayed far from the public service ethos they may have been originally grounded in; and I would dearly love to retire the faulty notion that “being good on TV” is an adequate proxy for being a good president.

With that out of the way, here’s what happened. Biden launched an organized strike this morning against the existing presidential commission on debates and against Donald Trump. He proposed:

(1) Two debates: One in June and one in September (plus a VP debate in July between the two party conventions)

(2) Ditching the presidential commission on debates: The two campaigns would negotiate the terms of the debates between themselves, including which networks would host them and who would moderate them.

(3) First strike: Biden’s proposal and public launch came in the form of a letter to the debate commission and this video trolling Trump:

The two most striking things about Biden’s move are (i) how self-consciously aggressive it is; and (ii) his willingness to ditch the existing presidential commission of debates.

On the first point, the aggression serves a few purposes. It’s clearly designed to take the initiative, throw Trump off balance, and keep the pressure on even as Trump is dealing with his criminal trial in Manhattan. But probably more importantly it serves as Biden’s opening bid in what will be a fairly high-stakes negotiation over the debates, so he came out strong with a list of demands and conditions about which networks can be considered, the pool of potential moderators, and the staging and setup of the debates themselves. Makes sense.

On the second point, it’s been Republicans for a long time who have most chafed against the presidential debates commission so there’s some irony in a Democratic president being the first (I think?) to part ways entirely with the existing system. In a world in which the commission had handled things well and produced debates that consistently served the broader civic good, I’d deplore the move. But no one is going to miss the compromised and TV-driven system that we’ve known for so long.

The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates announced its debate schedule and venue lineup way back in November. It has bragged that it scheduled this year’s debates earlier than ever before – a nod to the dramatic changes in early and mail-in voting that have turned “Election Day” into a rolling months-long undertaking. But its first debate still wouldn’t happen until Sept. 16, the first day of voting in Pennsylvania. Biden’s proposal more fully takes into account the new election calendar, with the debates all done by the end of September.

One final point for you to consider: There’s a decent chance that the upshot of all of this is no Biden-Trump debates at all. More likely than not that they arrive at some agreement, but I’d put the odds at just barely better than 50-50. Both candidates have served as president and are known commodities. Both candidates are advanced in years, and each faces real risks of debate gaffes that only reinforce concerns about their ages. When it comes right down to it, neither is running on the premise that they need to knock the other guy off a pedestal in order to win. They’re running completely independent, self-contained campaigns in parallel with each other. All of that adds up to the debates representing an opportunity with more real risk than potential gain, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t happen at all.

Would that be bad for democracy? It wouldn’t be great, but I don’t think the alternative would be some civically pure old-school debate hosted by the likes of the League of Women Voters. It would be the highly produced, carefully choreographed, ratings-driven theater that we’ve become accustomed to – and those have very little real value.

Michael Cohen Cross-Examination Begins With A Whimper

A surprisingly subdued first half of the cross-examination of Michael Cohen by Trump attorney Todd Blanche. I wish I could make more sense of it for you, but I was surprised, too, and I don’t fully understand the strategy, to the extent I even detect one.

Everyone noticed:

  • TPM’s Josh Kovensky: Trump Attorney Starts Off Cohen Cross With Limp Exam
  • Politico: Trump’s lawyer confronted Michael Cohen with a bang (and an expletive). Then things fizzled.
  • Rachel Maddow: Trump lawyers ‘didn’t bring it’ for Cohen cross-examination

No Trial Today

Thursday will be the only remaining day of trial this week.

Key points:

(1) Trump attorney Todd Blanche expects to take most of the day to finish cross examination.

(2) Cohen is prosecutors’ last witness.

(3) Blanche told the judge that Trump still hasn’t decided whether to testify himself (unlikely) or put on any defense. But if Trump does put on a defense, it would be Trump and a single as-yet-unidentified expert witness, Blanche said.

At this rate, I think we’re looking at closing arguments early next week, after which the jury gets the case.

Keep An Eye On This

I mentioned the other day that it looks an awful lot like Trump is coordinating surrogates to come to his defense as a workaround to the gag order but in a way that is itself a violation of the gag order. He can’t coordinate, direct or otherwise involve himself in their outside activity. Yesterday, he all but gave the game away, as Judd Legum notes, calling them his “surrogates,” praising them, and all but locking arms with them. And then there was this:

It’s True

Lisa Needham: Trump’s run-out-the-clock legal strategy worked

Where In The World Is Rudy Giuliani?

  • CNN: Arizona officials say they can’t find Rudy Giuliani to serve him with indictment notice
  • Politico: Giuliani bankruptcy judge rebuffs attempt to challenge $148 million judgment

2024 Ephemera

It was primary day yesterday:

  • MD-Sen: Rep. David Trone (D-MD) spent $60-some-odd million on the Democratic primary and was thoroughly trounced by Prince George’s County executive Angela Alsobrooks, who had the support of party leaders. She will face former Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in what will be, to Democrats’ chagrin, a closely watched general election matchup.
  • NE-02: Rep. Don Bacon (R) easily fended off a primary challenge from a far-right candidate who had the backing of the state GOP.
  • WV-01: Derrick Evans (R), who served time for the Jan. 6 attack, failed to knock off incumbent Rep. Carol Miller (R). (Rimshot, please.)

Never Forget

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  1. “Make my day,” FUCK YES! That’s a president. Fat Donnie can go suck it.

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