JOHN DERBYSHIRE ON THE DEBATE: The Next 18 Weeks Will Be Better Than Show Business!
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[Adapted from the latest Radio Derb, now available exclusively on]

The big news story of the week was of course the televised debate between President Biden and his almost certain challenger for the November election, former President Donald Trump. The debate was advertised to us well in advance as the Greatest Show on Earth. Did it live up to that?

My opinion, in a nutshell: not really. Let me enlarge on that.

I actually missed the first twenty minutes of the debate. An old friend was in the neighborhood, a long-time conservative activist from Washington, D.C. I’ll call him ”Pete,” although not only is that not his name, it doesn’t have a single letter in common with his name.

Pete had let us know several days ago that he’d be passing through, so we’d arranged to meet him for dinner at 7 p.m. Thursday in a restaurant on the other side of town here. When I’d made those arrangements I hadn’t been thinking about the debate being at 9 p.m. the same evening.

So when we met Pete at the restaurant at seven, I started by saying: ”I’m sorry, Pete, I didn’t take into account this big debate at nine o’clock, Trump and Biden. If you want to see it we can just eat fast and then go back to our house to catch it on TV.”

He replied: ”Nah, I don’t care. I’ll get the essentials from Twitter after it’s over.”

There spoke the true seasoned Washington insider. He spoke wise words, too.

We dined at leisure on some excellent Italian food and wine—for which many thanks, Pete!—left the restaurant about nine, bid farewell to Pete, and got home at 9:20.

I watched the remaining seventy, but with fast-waning attention. For the most part it was dull, predictable stuff. By the last twenty minutes I was starting to nod off.

There just weren’t any surprises. Biden mumbled a lot and made creepy facial expressions. He put out a lot of half-truths but no outrageous lies, although I thought he was about to do so a couple of times. When he mentioned the January 6th demonstrations, for example, I was sure he would tell us that five law-enforcement officers had been killed by the so-called ”insurrectionists,” but he didn’t.

That, I would guess, was one thing the coaches impressed on him during these last few days of debate prep: ”You can diddle with the truth a bit, Mister President, but don’t stomp on it …”

Trump was more at ease than Biden and spoke more sense, and his facial contortions were more comical than sinister. He missed opportunities, though, and left out things he really should have said—the name ”Ashli Babbitt,” for example.

And then, mass deportation. This is a popular policy [Exclusive poll: America warms to mass deportations,, April 25, 2024] a big vote-winner. It needs to be done. Trump has said he’ll do it. How, though? Jake Tapper asked him directly.

Trump should have laid out plain and clear what he’ll do: universal compulsory E-Verify, severe business-crushing penalties for employing illegal aliens, heavy taxation of remittances to foreign countries, punishing sanctions against nations that won’t repatriate their illegals… any number of other executive or legislative actions he could collect by browsing websites like… oh, you know,

Mass deportation isn’t just a winner with citizen voters, either. It can have a direct effect. Just spelling out the possibilities on a media event like this with, I’d guess, all-time record viewership would have given illegal aliens a salutary scare. They’d have been packing their suitcases all over. But Trump missed the chance.

A debate like this is of course a matter of both form and content. The judgments I’m reading in the postdebate commentary, for example Mediaite’s Looks and Sounds Ancient’: Biden’s Appearance Roasted Minutes Into CNN Debate with Trump [June 27, 2024}, concentrate heavily on form, especially the judgments from pro-Regime outlets. It wasn’t so much what the two guys said, as how they said it, and in general how they presented themselves.

Trump was a clear winner there, as even the Regime outlets are conceding [A Fumbling Performance, and a Panicking Party, by Peter Baker, NYT, June 27, 2024]. He never descended into the bombastic narcissism that is the least attractive side of his character. He spoke clearly and grammatically. His most striking facial expressions were obviously for deliberate comic effect, not involuntary like Biden’s. He was a normal human being, a guy you might meet in a bar and have a drink with.

Biden was a guy who, if you struck up conversation with him in a bar, you’d be trying to get away from him after three or four exchanges.

A lot of that is just premature senility. Biden’s been aging fast. You don’t have to dislike the guy to find the prospect of him in the White House for another four years unacceptable.

I’ve never been able to like Biden myself, but there is a case for him. Edward Luttwak [Tweet him] who’s known the man personally for fifty years, made the pro-Biden case over at on Friday morning.

Luttwak opens with seven full paragraphs praising Biden’s good sense in Luttwak’s areas of expertise: geopolitics and military strategy. He compares Biden favorably to Barack Obama, whom he regards as shallow and ”superficial.”

But then, this:

But it is now in the twilight of his presidency, 33 years after his first presidential bid, that Biden’s self-discipline has met its greatest test: he must resign instead of pursuing re-election.

Immediately after last night’s television debate with Donald Trump, a number of senior Democratic experts, one after the other, declared that Biden cannot continue his campaign for another four years as President. Several openly hate Trump, who was certainly too rhetorical and insufficiently factual. But they could not dispute Trump’s claim that he could govern, while Biden repeatedly and very visibly slipped into moments of senile confusion that only lasted a few seconds, but which can only get worse. Judging by last night’s performance, it seems extremely unlikely that he could function as President for as long as two years, let alone four.

Why Joe Biden must save himself—and quit |The debate showed senility which will only worsen, June 28, 2024

Luttwak’s conclusion there is as close as we ever get to a bipartisan consensus. What does this mean for November’s election?

Let’s just get the timeline clear in our minds here.

So, just to have the three events clear in your mind: two weeks, then another five, then another eleven.

There’s going to be plenty of fun and excitement in there. Thursday July 11th, just four days before the GOP Convention opens, ten days this coming Monday, we get the sentencing decision on Trump’s felony convictions from regime front man Justice Juan Merchan [Donald Trump sentencing date scheduled for July 11 after historic guilty verdict, just FOUR DAYS before Republican Party will nominate him for president, Daily Mail, May 30, 2024].

Trump’s going to appeal the felony verdicts of course, but he can’t file his appeals until after the sentencing. It’s not clear to me whether he could be jailed in the interim—immediately following the sentencing, that is.

Given that Justice Merchan is plainly a willing tool of the Trump-loathing Ruling Class, jail is certainly possible. Jail for a nonviolent first offense is unusual, but Merchan could argue that it’s justified by Trump’s obvious lack of remorse and violation of gag orders.

So the possibility here is that when the GOP Convention opens on the 15th, their presidential candidate will be living through his fourth or fifth day in jail.

Is the GOP sufficiently committed to Trump as their candidate that they will just make theater out of this—perhaps having him address the convention by phone from his cell? Will the prison authorities allow that?

My advice would be for Trump to have an acceptance speech prerecorded in case his jailers are as thoroughly under Regime Control as Justice Merchan.

If, on the other hand, the GOP Establishment decides to dump Trump, they have a good bench of possible replacements—all those names you’ve been seeing as likely Trump choices to be his Vice President: Senators J.D. Vance of Ohio and Marco Rubio of Florida, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, and so on.

I doubt the GOP will dump Trump. They depend too much on his voter base. In a presidential contest either between Biden and not-Trump or between not-Biden and not-Trump, the disgruntlement of Trump voters will guarantee a Democrat victory.

Even the Republican Party managers are smart enough to see that, surely. They don’t like Trump’s voter base, but they know they need them, unless they’re even stupider than I take them for.

The Democratic Party will meanwhile have been struggling with how to persuade Joe Biden to not run for president while none the less committing to serve out his term. His outright resignation would give us six months of a Kamala Harris presidency, which nobody wants.

And then, who’s going to replace him as the party’s presidential candidate? Again, not Kamala Harris; but then, who?

There is a pretty consistent list of names you see in stories about this. Top of the list are Governors Gavin Newsom of California, Jay Pritzker of Illinois, and Michigan’s strict Governess Gretchen Whitmer.

Then there are some B-Listers like Governors Jared Polis of Colorado, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, and Andy Beshear of Kentucky, along with Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Down below that are some what-the-hell high-name-recognition outsiders: Hillary Clinton of course, Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg.

My best guess is that the Democratic Party managers, who are not best known for high flights of imagination, will go top-of-the-list, but most likely not for Newsom. California’s been getting too bad a press recently, so: Pritzker or Whitmer.

So November’s contest could be Trump-Biden, Burgum-Pritzker, Ramaswamy-Buttigieg, or anything in between.

Politics, the old saying goes, is show business for ugly people.

But this next eighteen weeks looks set fair to be way more entertaining than anything that comes out of show business nowadays.

John Derbyshire [email him] writes an incredible amount on all sorts of subjects for all kinds of outlets. (This no longer includes National Review, whose editors had some kind of tantrum and fired him.) He is the author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism and several other books. He has had two books published by com: FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT (also available in Kindle) and FROM THE DISSIDENT RIGHT II: ESSAYS 2013.

For years he’s been podcasting at Radio Derb, now available at for no charge. His writings are archived at

Readers who wish to donate (tax deductible) funds specifically earmarked for John Derbyshire’s writings at can do so here.

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