The Jolt: Regardless of who ‘won’ the debate, ‘the loser was American democracy’

For 33 years, Edward Panetta headed up the University of Georgia’s debate team. So expecting him to analyze last night’s 90-minute presidential debate is the equivalent of asking a master chef to make sense of a Blake Edwards pie fight.

Still, Panetta tried.

Here’s what he sent us early this morning:

The televised argument between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was not a debate. When one teaches an introductory debate class, even at the middle-school level, the first lesson one works through is how to distinguish a debate from an argument one might have with family or friends.

In a debate, each side is afforded equal time and the exchanges are rule-governed. People take turns speaking. These fundamental rules of debate are not norms found in all forms of argument, and they were certainly not on exhibition tonight.

As the moderator, Chris Wallace, pointed out that Donald Trump was the primary instigator of repeated interruptions during the debate. This violated the rules set by the Commission on Presidential Debates and resulted in an imbalance of speaking time.

Despite what you witnessed in Cleveland, I would encourage parents across the country to continue to seek out debate opportunities for your children. Now more than ever, we need people who are skilled at arguing in a respectful fashion when confronted by a controversial issue.

When one assesses the evening, there are a number of reasons why Joe Biden could be considered the “winner.”

I say this against the backdrop that the loser tonight was American democracy. Many young citizens tuned into their first presidential debate and left shell-shocked. Across the world today, America is not perceived as Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.”

For several months, the Trump campaign pushed a narrative that Joe Biden would be unable to string together a series of coherent thoughts in the debate. While he faltered in answering questions about both COVID and packing the U.S. Supreme Court, he hung in with Donald Trump for the entire 90-minute exchange.

Simply put, Joe Biden exceeded the low expectations set for him for the last few months. When I watched the debate, I had the sense that one explanation for President Trump’s boorish behavior was that he was hoping to break Biden’s spirit and confirm that Biden was cognitively impaired. This did not occur tonight. In fact, Biden’s best moments (including his answer on the election and voting) came late in the program.

Additionally, Joe Biden was the candidate who looked directly into the camera on several occasions and spoke directly to the American people. While this wasn’t a debate, it was a job interview and Joe Biden looked at his prospective employer and told American families why he deserved the job.

The significance of this non-verbal discipline in a chaotic argument served Biden well. Contrast this with the aggressive tone that President Trump projected throughout the evening. He badgered Joe Biden, and it did not play well with the viewers who are not already confirmed Trump supporters. But in addition to pressuring Biden to crack, there is a second potential explanation for President Trump’s rhetorical tactics.

This exchange was very demoralizing. And if any voters were alienated and are now tempted to stay home on Election Day, they may be Biden supporters and not the Trump faithful -- who would support him even if, as Trump himself has said, he shot someone on Fifth Avenue.

But if his target audience was broader than those most ardent supporters, the debate probably didn’t help the president. Trump did little to address the concerns of white, college-educated women in the suburbs who are concerned about the president’s behavior. These are the voters who left the Republican party in the 2018 election cycle.

This televised argument was not only damaging to President Trump’s re-election chances, it did real harm to down-ballot Republicans in suburban districts like the Georgia Sixth.

(That last point from Panetta is a good one: You have to wonder what Karen Handel, the Republican trying to retake a congressional seat lost to U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, thought about this first Trump-Biden “debate.”)


Judging by the response on Twitter, many of you were rightfully disturbed by President Trump’s response when asked to denounce “white supremacists and right-wing militias,”

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said. “But I’ll tell you what somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem. This is a left-wing problem.”

FBI Director Chris Wray and acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf have both identified white supremacists as the “most persistent and lethal” internal “threat” to the U.S.

But there was an even more telling exchange on race between Trump and moderator Chris Wallace:

Wallace: This month, your administration directed federal agencies to end racial sensitivity training that addresses white privilege or critical race theory. Why did you decide to do that, to end racial sensitivity training? And do you believe that there is systemic racism in this country, sir?

Trump: I ended it because it's racist. I ended it because a lot of people were complaining that they were asked to do things that were absolutely insane. That it was a radical revolution that was taking place in our military, in our schools, all over the place. And you know it, and so does everybody else. And he would know it…

Wallace: What is radical about racial sensitivity training?

Trump: If you were a certain person, you had no status in life. It was sort of a reversal. And if you look at the people, we were paying people hundreds of thousands of dollars to teach very bad ideas and frankly, very sick ideas.

And really, they were teaching people to hate our country and I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to allow that to happen. We have to go back to the core values of this country.

They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place. It's a racist place. And they were teaching people to hate our country. And I'm not going to allow that to happen.


A former candidate for Atlanta mayor and the former president of Morehouse College and will advance to a Dec. 1 runoff in the race to finish out the last days of the 2018-2020 term of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis.

Kwanza Hall is a former Atlanta city councilman who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2017. He finished first, ahead of Robert Franklin, the former Morehouse leader who currently serves as a professor of theology at Emory University.

The winner will serve in the U.S. House for roughly a month, most of that time during a holiday break during which Congress is expected to be on recess.

As of this morning, the secretary of state’s website showed 31,009 votes tallied. Here’s how the seven candidates finished:

-- Kwanza Hall (D), 32%;

-- Robert Franklin (D), 28%;

-- “Able” Mable Thomas (D), 19%;

-- Keisha Sean Waites (D), 12%;

-- Barrington D. Martin II (D), 6%;

-- Chase Oliver (L), 2%;

-- Steve Muhammad (I), 1%.


Already posted: A Quinnipiac University poll of likely Georgia voters shows Democrat Raphael Warnock -- for the first time -- ahead in the special election to complete the term of former Sen. Johnny Isakson, with Warnock pegged at 31%, GOP incumbent Kelly Loeffler at 23%, and Republican congressman Doug Collins at 22%. Democrat Matt Lieberman followed at 9%, with Democrat Ed Tarver at 4%.


Vice President Mike Pence will headline a conservative religious conference in Atlanta today. Pence is set to arrive in Atlanta around noon, then will head to a Republican fundraiser followed by a trip to the Cobb Galleria Centre to speak at the Faith & Freedom Coalition Policy Conference. He’s expected to depart Dobbins Air Reserve Base around 4:15 p.m.


Both of Georgia’s U.S. senators are to meet today with Amy Coney Barrett, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have already expressed support for Barrett and say the Senate should move quickly to confirm her.


The U.S. Senate is expected to pass a continuing resolution today that will avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week, as long as President Donald Trump signs it into law quickly.

Kelly Loeffler was among six Senate Republicans who signaled Tuesday that they will not support the measure, opposing a procedural vote to advance the measure. Her representatives told us later that Loeffler has decided to take a stand against how the government is funded and noted what they consider fraud and waste.

The continuing resolution is not a new spending bill. It essentially allows government agencies the authority to continue the status quo. The measure currently on the table pushes the next shutdown deadline to Dec. 11.


On metro Atlanta’s airwaves, ads in the race between U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff are often geared toward a more moderate audience. The two have traded fire over their approach to the pandemic, healthcare policy and the economy.

But outside the city’s expensive TV market, a different sort of messaging is going on. Witness this ad that aired in Savannah and other mid-sized cities this month. Says Ossoff:

“Nothing's more important than keeping Georgians safe. I'll fight for Georgia's military bases. I'll defend our Second Amendment. And police officers put their lives on the line to protect us. Of course I don't support defunding the police."

Ossoff brandishes an "F" rating from the National Rifle Association, but has the endorsement of Everytown for Gun Safety. Advocating for gun rights has not been front-and-center in his campaign.

There’s a reason for the message: He was responding to a dystopian ad from Perdue’s campaign that aired in Georgia’s smaller markets. That ad falsely claimed he would “defund the police, confiscate your guns, close military bases.”

As to why those ads didn’t air in Atlanta, Ossoff’s campaign offered a simple answer. The Democrat bought air time for the 30-second spot only in markets where Perdue struck first with his attack ad.


In an article looking at Democratic talk of adding more seats to the U.S. Supreme Court, Governing magazine points out that GOP objections may not always be consistent:

Some Republican legislatures also have added seats to their states' supreme courts to create new conservative majorities that are still in power today. In 2016, for example, Republicans in Georgia added two seats to the state Supreme Court to create a new conservative majority, giving GOP Gov. Nathan Deal two appointments.


America First Action, a super PAC supporting President Donald Trump, is investing $2.8 million to defend the president in key Georgia markets.

Television and digital ads and mailers will also be targeted at voters in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Florida and Pennsylvania, all must-win states in Trump’s re-election bid as part of a new $40 million spend. In total, the group has spent $106 million since April.

The new ads focus on attacking former Vice President Joe Biden’s record on the economy and taxes. The ads, which will begin Oct. 7 and run through Election Day, will run in Albany, Macon and Savannah.


In endorsement news, former gubernatorial contender Hunter Hill backed U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s campaign for November special election. Hill is a former state senator who finished in third in the 2018 GOP primary.