Biden knows he’s losing – that’s why he wants a debate

Get ready for a Trump versus Biden rematch
Get ready for a Trump versus Biden rematch - Patrick Semansky /AP

Joe Biden has offered to debate Donald Trump twice – once in June, again in September – and Trump has agreed. The prez thus played a weak hand well. He released a video in which he told Trump to “make my day” and debate: “I’ll even do it twice!” he said, as if this were an exceptional feat of strength. In fact, most elections feature three debates squeezed into a few weeks, not two luxuriously stretched over half the year. Biden has cleverly guaranteed himself at least three months bed rest between encounters.

Only losers demand debates. Winners sit on leads; people who are behind need something, anything, to shake up the contest. Biden is polling second in all but one critical swing states, putting him on the path to electoral college defeat, and is said to be worried that the public is ignoring the contest.

To him, it’s a battle between good and evil; he cannot fathom why Americans aren’t paying attention. Hence a June debate might revive interest and remind voters how unpresidential Trump is when he’s not muzzled by a judge. It’s widely felt that his bulldozer approach to the first debate of 2020 backfired – mute buttons had to be introduced – whereas Biden’s ability to get through an answer without a coronary suggested there was life in the old dog yet.

Indeed the White House is deploying a clever expectations game, one that Trump has facilitated. By constantly ridiculing Biden’s age, and predicting that he’ll “fold like a tent” yada-yada, Trump has lowered expectations in advance of the President’s performance. Biden only has to be average in June to look like he aced it.

His State of the Union was a preview of the strategy. Personally, I thought he was awful – shouty and angry, as if he were struggling to get service at an Olive Garden – but the speech dispelled the notion that the President is on his knees. Biden seems to be revelling in his new image of a man enjoying a second middle-age, hence that Dirty Harry video demanding a debate – with a clever dig at Trump’s court schedule. “I hear you’re free on Wednesdays”.

So why did Trump say yes to such an invidious timetable? Little of what he does makes sense. Despite being ahead in the race, Trump has been demanding they debate as many times as possible – not, one suspects, because he needs it, but because he enjoys it. Yet here he has agreed to a framework that allows Biden to hide the very weakness Trump has tried to expose: his senility.

Well, there are some advantages. The two men appear to be colluding to exclude Robert Kennedy Jr from the contest, which is wise because he could take votes from either and upend the race (it would also be the first time millions hear his crackling voice, which certainly commands attention).

Moreover, what works for Biden might work for Trump, too: should Donald underperform, he’ll have plenty of time post-September to recover with rallies and videos. It’s possible that he’s rustier than he’d care to admit. Trump stayed away from the primary debates last year. Finally, the Hunter Biden gun trial begins next month, which should bring some balance to the Trump/Biden grudge. Trump is not the only one in serious legal jeopardy, and we can rely on him to ram this point home.

Whoever wins, it will be a TV phenomenon – rightly breaking from the straitjacket of the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which Biden hates for letting Trump flout the Covid rules during their 2020 matchup. I can’t wait. It’ll be bigger than the Super Bowl. Hotter than Dallas. Camper than the Golden Girls.