Donald Trump's last, best hope?

Dan Guild: Contrary to the usual dynamic of a debate between an incumbent and challenger, Donald Trump now looks like the risky alternative. -promoted by Laura Belin

To candidates who are behind, debates are “the thing with feathers.”

They offer one last chance to change the trajectory of a race. Historically they have mattered on occasion. In an unusual year, how they might matter is very, very, strange.

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Top Iowa Republicans dare not distance themselves from Trump

President Donald Trump’s unhinged and at times frightening behavior during his first televised debate “worried” and “alarmed” some of his most influential allies. The next day, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Washington Republicans criticized the president’s failure to condemn white supremacists. Former Republican National Committee chair Marc Racicot even revealed that he had decided to vote for Democrat Joe Biden, after concluding Trump is “dangerous to the existence of the republic as we know it.”

True to form, Iowa Republicans offered no hint of dissent from the president this week. They either said nothing about Trump’s debate performance or put a positive spin on it.

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The most important exchange from the first Trump-Biden debate

The first clash between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was indisputably a low point in the history of presidential debates. There were plenty of discouraging moments, when Trump’s incessant bullying left moderator Chris Wallace pleading with the leader of the free world to stop interrupting. More frightening, a sitting president refused to condemn white supremacy and encouraged his far-right militant supporters to “stand back and stand by.”

But near the end, Biden delivered one of the best answers I’ve ever seen him give in a debate.

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Presidential debates: Candidates in search of that magic moment

Dan Guild reviews presidential polling since 1976 to gauge the impact of televised debates. -promoted by Laura Belin

Since the advent of television, politics and indeed history have occasionally turned on a few moments. Seldom do they last longer than 60 seconds (like wit, television values brevity above all else).

Senator Joe McCarthy, and the moment he led, were stopped when he was asked, “Have you no decency, sir?” During the Watergate hearings, Howard Baker summed up the entire scandal when he asked, “What did the president know, and when did he know it?”

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Joni Ernst picks a strange fight with Theresa Greenfield

“You know, I haven’t heard Theresa Greenfield say one thing that Chuck Schumer hasn’t told her to say,” Senator Joni Ernst declared today on her Twitter feed. “And that’s not what Iowans expect in a leader.”

Several political reporters quickly noted the role reversal in Ernst’s call for six debates with her Democratic opponent. Usually challengers want more debates in order to raise their profiles before the general election. An incumbent making that demand is likely trailing, as the three most recent published polls on Iowa’s Senate race suggest.

Other endangered Republican senators have similarly called for frequent debates this fall, a sign of justified fear that President Donald Trump’s sinking approval will drag them down in November.

Another thing about Ernst’s taunt struck me as more strange, though. If she wants to make the election about who slavishly follows her party’s leader, Iowa’s junior senator is on exceptionally weak ground.

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Oy, the debate

Ira Lacher reflects on the February 19 six-candidate clash in Las Vegas, which drew the largest television audience yet for a Democratic debate this cycle. -promoted by Laura Belin

“Welcome to the NFL, kid.” — The sarcastic greeting veteran players give to highly touted rookies who are roughed up and even injured in their first pro football contests.

“Welcome to the party, man.” — The sarcastic greeting Joe Biden gave to Mike Bloomberg as they exited the stage after Wednesday’s debate.

Based on Wednesday’s pro wrestling show in Las Vegas, the former New York City mayor is being compared to Ishtar. The 1987 film cost a then-unheard of $40 million and was pilloried as one of the worst disasters in movie history.

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