On the question of whether Donald Trump is a sinister mastermind or an incompetent scumbag (not mutually exclusive), last night’s debate will have to register in the scumbag column. His constant interruptions, vanity, self-pity and frequent forays into lies and nonsense are all by this point wearyingly familiar. Of course, Trump has been consistently underestimated since he entered politics, and his supporters no doubt enjoyed the petulant way he dominated proceedings. But his abuse of Biden was a far cry from the humiliations to which he subjected his opponents in the 2016 GOP primary debates. The show has gotten old.
Sanders won’t be quitting. A possibility remains, therefore, that the Democrats will conduct a ‘brokered convention’. Secondary candidates like Buttigieg and Warren had lately put themselves in the anti-popular posture of endorsing such a proceeding (though there’s been nothing like it since the 1950s): at a brokered convention, a candidate with a solid plurality can be denied the nomination on the first ballot and defeated later by a coalition. If Biden now runs far ahead of Sanders, he may sew it up in advance. On the other hand, his verbal gaffes (announcing himself a candidate for the Senate rather than the presidency; saying ‘I was a Democratic caucus’) and his fabricated or false memories (a non-existent arrest in South Africa for demonstrating against the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela) have exposed a cognitive fragility that some people fear could make him ridiculous by November.
The gold dome of the Old Capitol Building in Iowa City is now part of the University of Iowa campus, where I work. It sits in state above the Iowa River, where bald eagles soar and dive. And there I was, running and stumbling through the snow because I was late for the Democratic caucus and had been been told repeatedly the doors would close promptly at seven o’clock. With a touch of Midwestern disdain for the tardy, a precinct volunteer told me I was ‘not going to make it’ as I pushed through the door and sprinted down the stairs. But I did make it, with time to spare. The weird mix of decorum and chaos continued through the night.