The every-four-year freak show starts tonight

Erick Erickson has nothing good to say about tonight’s first presidential debate:

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is fit for the office of President of the United States.

They are both appalling, immoral cretins and their parties should live in everlasting shame that they foisted the two turds from the bottom of the bowl and floated them in the pool of American politics.

Tonight they will meet in New York and remind the nation just how awful, vain, and self-interested both are. Hillary Clinton will come across as completely unlikeable and so will Donald Trump. The Amorphophallus titanum will meet the bastard love child of Bozo the Clown and Chucky. Manhattan will meet Queens and it will be as smug, condescending, and pretentious as all that such an encounter entails.

We will really learn nothing about either one except that it will be possible to hate both more after tonight. It is my hope and prayer that the voters who voted for these two be permanently compelled to put their heads in paper bags and live in undying shame for having supported them in primaries. …

As we prepare for the shrill hell of monotony and are only spared old-people smell by virtue of not being in the same room with these reanimated corpses, I root for injuries. May both so thoroughly destroy each other than the American people look elsewhere, or at least look in the mirror and reassess the lack of seriousness of the several million voters who are to blame for those two creatures being on stage.

A pox on both of them.

A pox? Is it improper to wish that they both drop dead tonight?

Arthur Brooks asks whether the debates matter, and answers …

First of all, general election debates seem to matter less than everyone thinks. Surveying the literature, Professor John Sides at George Washington University concludes that presidential debates usually have little to no effect on general election outcomes. One study he cites, by political scientists Robert Erikson and Christopher Wlezien, examined a big set of elections from 1952 to 2008. Their finding? “The best prediction from the debates is the initial verdict before the debates.”
So the general election debates hardly ever yield earth-shattering inflection points. But the data can still help us guess what might happen [tonight[. In 2012, Nate Silver looked back at the historical record and found that the first debate usually helps the candidate whose party is out of power. Interestingly, he published his piece just a few days before Mitt Romney turned in an enormously successful performance in his first debate with President Obama. Romney’s big night won him a real bump in the polls (as per Silver’s analysis), but it soon faded away, and the underlying fundamentals of the race returned to the fore (as per Erikson’s and Wlezien’s hypothesis).
But this contrasts sharply with the research on primary debates, which seem to matter a lot. One 2013 study found that after primary debates, a whopping 35 percent of viewers said they changed their candidate preference. After the general election debates, only 3.5 percent of viewers said the same. People’s minds are seemingly only 1/10th as open during the general debates as during the primary debates. Why? I’ll make a few guesses.
For one thing, the primaries usually feature candidates with similar views. If voters can hardly distinguish between their options on policy substance, it makes sense that stylistic differences would exert a larger impact. What’s more, we hear a lot from primary voters that they are actually value debating skills pretty highly as an important trait that they’re looking for. (“I want someone who can really take the case to the other guy on national TV in October!”)
In sum, we are left with a bit of a paradox. While many primary voters seem to care a lot about rhetorical skills when they’re choosing who will represent their “team” in the general election, very few general election voters seem to be swayed permanently by those prime-time performances. As a result, debates matter a lot in the primaries but only a little in October.
Try dropping that factoid into the conversation at your debate watch party. It might be the most substantive talking point people hear all night.

In addition to the fact that I work, I am not watching because debates have nothing to do  with being president.


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