Trump’s preoccupation with debating Biden reaches a new level

It’s difficult to overstate just how eager Donald Trump is to participate in general election debates against President Joe Biden. Last summer, the Republican said the debates “definitely“ have to happen. Soon after, the former president suggested he’d like to see 10 debates, rather than the usual three.

Last month, Trump used his social media platform to declare that he’s prepared to debate the Democratic incumbent “ANYTIME, ANYWHERE, ANYPLACE,” regardless of who organizes the events. (The Republican National Committee’s official position is to reject debates held by the independent Commission on Presidential Debates.)

Yesterday, as NBC News reported, the presumptive GOP nominee kept the offensive going.

Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a demonstrative call for head-to-head debates with President Joe Biden, placing an empty lectern on the stage before a rally [in Wisconsin] to represent where Biden could stand. “This is for Joe Biden. I am trying to get him to debate,” Trump said, referring to the empty podium.

Moments later, the Republican again echoed his “anytime, anyplace” line.

For his part, Biden and his re-election campaign have not yet committed to participating in any general election debates, making it all the more likely that Trump will seize on this as a key campaign issue. That will make a fair amount of sense: There was a time in the not-too-distant past when presidential debates were rarities — there were no such events in 1964, 1968, and 1972 election cycles, for example — but they’ve become a common staple in recent decades.

If Biden chooses not to participate, he’ll run the risk of appearing afraid to share a stage with his predecessor and would-be successor.

Asked recently about whether he intends to share a stage with Trump in the fall, the incumbent president replied, “It depends on his behavior.”

The answer seemed to open the door to a credible explanation for why Biden would be justified in ignoring Trump’s pleas.

Four years ago, the Republican’s behavior during the debates immediately became a national embarrassment. Viewers saw an incumbent president lying, raging, heckling, erupting and interrupting, to the point that one of own debate coaches acknowledged Trump’s on-stage failures.

It was also four years ago when Trump used a debate to send a message to a neo-fascist group: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”

The 2020 presidential debates were so dreadful — due entirely to Trump’s indefensible tantrums — that The New York Times reported at the time, “The unedifying spectacle of Tuesday night’s presidential debate produced some shock, some sadness and some weariness among American allies and rivals alike.” The report added that some international observers were so mortified by the display that “many wondered if the chaos and tenor of the event said something more fundamental about the state of American democracy.”

In the years that followed, Trump’s antics, hostility toward democracy, and willingness to tolerate — and by some measures, encourage — political violence has become even more overt.

So why should Biden agree to share a stage with him, and give the Republican a global platform?

Presidential debates are for candidates who know how to conduct themselves in public, and who’ve earned the right to be on the stage. Trump falls short on both counts.

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