Here is a basic proposition: Presidential debates are an opportunity for candidates to stand before the public, answer questions about their various policies and positions, and make the case that they — and not their opponent — are best suited to serve the public as an elected official.
If we accept this fairly benign assessment as being even remotely true, then here's a question for you: Why the hell would Joe Biden agree to any more debates with President Trump after Tuesday night's absolute disaster?
Think of it this way: Did we learn anything about either candidate that we didn't already know? Did anyone articulate a new policy, or offer a critique of their opponent that's substantively different from what's been blasting the public in the face nonstop for months on end? Of course modern debates have contained a good measure of performative pandering since 1960, if not earlier. But that pandering came with at least the veneer of Very Serious Politicking that could ostensibly justify the pomp and circumstance that followed.
On Tuesday, that all went to hell.
To be clear, this is not a "both sides" situation. This is a direct byproduct of the fact that Trump doesn't care about debates. He doesn't care about sharing a "vision" for the country, or describing policies, or articulating goals. He cares about about appearing tough, and belittling others to help him maintain that facade. To him, the debate stage is no different from a political rally, which is itself no different from his beloved Twitter account; it's all just a platform for detached self-aggrandizement and hostile deprecation of others.
Meanwhile, Biden, anachronistic political artifact that he often is, seemed totally flummoxed by the idea that Trump didn't actually show up to debate. He pleaded with moderator Chris Wallace over interruptions and speaking time. He tried to share the basic outlines of his political plans for the country. In other words, he made the mistake of treating Tuesday evening like a regular debate. He didn't so much bring a knife to a gun fight — he certainly knew the stakes here — as he seemed to assume that an antique blunderbuss would be enough to suppress the barrage of anti-aircraft lies deployed by Trump. Yeah, it's technically a gun, but barely.
To be fair, Biden did manage to get in a few pithy one-liners-turned-merch-fodder. And, y'know what? Good for him. He made the best of the mess he found himself in. But what good is a solid soundbite in the face of overt calls for militia violence and a total detachment from reality?
The are two more presidential debates scheduled before Nov. 3. But with last night in the rearview, what's the compelling argument to do this again? If Tuesday's debate was at all instructive, it was so only in demonstrating that with Trump on the ticket, there's no platform he can't subvert for his own purposes, abandoning broad appeals for targeted calls to circumvent or simply shatter the laughably weak "norms" that have helped regulate the tone and tenor of elections past.
To hold another debate with Trump would simply be giving him another opportunity to foment violence and delegitimize the very electoral process in which he is ostensibly participating. So don't do it. There's nothing about his character or his political goals that we don't already know. There's no format that will keep him from poisoning the proceedings with his venomous agenda. So what is there to gain for Biden — or the public at large — by holding another debate?
It's a waste of time. It's a waste of energy. And moreover, it's a risk of we don't need to take.