The Democratic Nominee Should Refuse to Debate Donald Trump

Donald Trump at a 2015 rally
Donald Trump at a 2015 rally Photo by Michael Vadon via Flickr
The third Democratic Primary debate is rolling into Texas Southern University Thursday. The field of 20-plus candidates has been winnowed down to ten: Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Andrew Yang. Though it’s possible some of the candidates who didn’t make the stage will see a comeback that gets them on the next debate, it’s likely that the eventual nominee will be one of the people in Houston having a lively debate about all manners of things. And no matter who the nominee is, she or he should not debate Donald Trump in the general election.

There is literally nothing to be gained by debating Donald Trump and everything to lose. In any debate he is involved in, only the opposition gets points taken off for being wrong or unprepared or outright lying. He is incapable of losing points because he fundamentally denies points exist unless he has more of them.

Remember the exact moment it became clear Mitt Romney realized he was never going to be president? Here, I’ll show you:

Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of refusing to call the attack in Benghazi an act of terror. Obama calmly waited for him to dig himself a gold-plated grave, said “get the transcript,” had the moderator agree with him that Romney was either mistaken or lying, and you could see that Romney knew he has messed up catastrophically. That’s because for all his faults, Mitt Romney is a human being existing in reality as the the rest of us more or less perceive it and things like “being publicly wrong” matter to his self-image. It physically hurt Romney to be humiliated and caught out like that, and he could not hide the emotion. From that moment on, the election was a mopping up exercise for Obama.

Donald Trump simply does not have that emotion in him. This is a man who literally just lied about the weather in an official statement by adding a line in sharpie to the path of Hurricane Dorian. The National Weather Service had to take some of their valuable time preparing the nation for a major emergency to debunk the sitting President of the United States because he told a weather lie and broke weather law. I didn’t even know there was weather law to break, and Trump did it as casually as he tweets.

There is no political comparison to the level of falsehood that Donald Trump daily spreads. Politifact rates him true less than 80 percent of the time. He lies constantly and for little to no reason. Whether it’s exaggerating the size of his inauguration crowd or claiming millions of illegal voters existed in the 2016 election or that the noise from windmills causes cancer or that Kamala Harris is supporting MS-13 or whatever, he spins nonsense easily and automatically. And even when he is caught doing so, he simply pretends it isn’t so until the next lie takes hold of the American attention span.

There is no one who has the ability to out-debate that mindset because it simply isn’t a debate. Hillary Clinton expertly pointed out lies Trump told in debates, and all it did was become a meme. This one.

It’s fun to imagine Biden taking Trump to the woodshed, or Harris or Klobuchar using their prosecutor skills to trip him up, or that a bird will fly out of Sanders’ finger like a living exclamation point that will own the president once and for all.

None of that is going to happen because Trump sees no reason to acknowledge the authority of truth over himself. He didn’t as a candidate and it’s impossible he would as president. And why would he? He lied as he ran and Russia lied on his behalf as part of their psyop. It’s an existence built and maintained with untruth, and simple pattern recognition would say keep on doing it because it worked.

Whoever the nominee is, that person will be flush with victory over a magnificent field of other candidates. That candidate will think he or she is strong enough to tear down the crooked tower using common sense and truth, but that will be wrong. All debating Trump does is add more screen time for him to craft his poisonous nonsense, hoping it will be enough to keep the con going one more term.

The networks may howl, but they could be placated with separate single person events. The lies that Trump tells between now and next November can be countered with video and the written word and demonstrations instead of on-air debate with moderators who kill truth in the name of balance. The nominee must build his or her own stage and deny Trump access to it. He’ll call that person a coward, but he was going to do that anyway. The only way to win is to play a game he can’t comprehend. Yelling things is not that game.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner