Fore More Years

Donald Trump and Joe Biden at the presidential debate

Listen to this article

Produced by ElevenLabs and News Over Audio (NOA) using AI narration.

Sign up for The Decision, a newsletter featuring our 2024 election coverage.

Last night, a nation turned its watchful eyes toward its television screens and witnessed a type of ritual usually only held behind closed doors. Eager voters finally got a glimpse into the smoke-filled rooms that line the halls of power—the places where world affairs are settled and where great men may speak freely. At last, the electorate saw something real: two old, powerful men petulantly blustering about their golf games.

The moment came at the very end of an interminable presidential debate that was, as my colleague David Graham notes, “at times almost physically uncomfortable.” Trump rambled and spewed false claims, while Biden looked stunned at times, raspily peppering viewers with a buckshot approach to his talking points. Each candidate gave off the impression of quietly hating the other, yet their exchanges lacked any true vigor, even when they discussed matters of the economy, national security, and war. It wasn’t until the mention of Trump’s average distance off the tee that America got a glimpse of two men fighting like they had something to prove.

I had to check a transcript to remember the sequence of events because, upon hearing these two presidential candidates comparing their handicaps, I briefly ascended to the astral plane. But I’m told it went something like this: Trump, in response to a question about his age and fitness for office, cited his golf prowess, claiming he’d won two country-club golf championships. “To do that, you have to be quite smart and hit the ball a long way,” Trump said. He then claimed that Biden challenged him to a golf match but couldn’t hit the ball 50 yards. In response, the president implied that Trump routinely lies about his height and weight, claimed to have a six handicap (which would be good at any age, let alone at 75 years old, as Biden was when he last recorded a golf score), and expressed his desire to have a driving contest with his opponent. “I’m happy to play golf if you carry your own bag,” Biden quipped.

The pair then bickered over Biden’s handicap in the following exchange, which I’ve included in full and regret to inform you is real:

Trump: That’s the biggest lie, that he’s a six handicap.

Biden: I was an eight handicap.

Trump: I’ve seen your swing. I know your swing. Let’s not act like children.

CNN Moderator Dana Bash: Mr. Trump, let’s go back to a specific concern that voters have about you. Will you pledge tonight that once all legal challenges have been exhausted, that you will accept the results of this election?

It’s easy (and, in many ways, correct) to dismiss this incredibly petty, low-stakes argument as a distraction from the issues that really matter. This is, after all, an election that carries an existential vibe—less battle of ideas, more battle for the soul of the country. And yet the moment is also a near-perfect encapsulation of the fever dream that is American electoral politics in 2024.

The question that kicked off this country-club debate wasn’t about the candidates’ hobbies or how they’d spend their ideal Sunday afternoon. It was a question about presidential fitness for two men who would end their second term in their 80s. What we witnessed was two unpopular elderly men bickering over their basic competence to be physically fit enough to do the most important job in the land and suggesting that a longest-drive contest ought to settle the score. This isn’t just dumb—it is sublimely dumb, the kind of dumb that ought to ring out across the plains like a tornado siren. Wake up and seek shelter in the basement!

That these men settled on their golf handicaps is also perfect. There is no better fodder for the broken format of presidential debating in a post-truth world than a metric like a handicap, which is based on golfers self-reporting their unofficial scores using nothing more than an honor system. Golf handicaps are easily searchable using the USGA’s official app; I looked up both Trump (2.5, last updated in 2021) and Biden’s (6.7, last updated in 2018). But you have to understand that these numbers are, for our purposes, old and only as credible as the men who recorded their scores.

That’s because golfers can cheat or fudge their scores to be lower (known as a vanity handicap), or they can inflate them—a process known as sandbagging or, in non-golf parlance, hustling. Having a higher handicap means you can get an advantage in matches, as better players are required to spot you strokes; it’s not uncommon for weekend hackers to grouse about losing money to a player they believe wasn’t being truthful about their handicap. If you love golf, as I do, or spend enough time around golfers, you’ll find that any given handicap is a perfect subject for debate.

It’s worth noting that Trump’s golf game has long been an area of dispute. The author Rick Reilly wrote an entire book documenting Trump’s prolific cheating on the course, alleging that his club-championship claims are dubious at best and complete fiction at their worst. (Trump claimed to win his senior club championship in 2023, despite not playing the first round of the tournament.)

Presidential debates are always a fact-checking minefield, though usually about matters of greater consequence. Candidates redirect questions they don’t like, obfuscate, stretch the truth, blatantly lie, or cite vague figures that aren’t easily disproved. Media organizations have devoted entire teams to real-time debunking, but the sad truth is that usually, by the time the facts arrive, the falsehood has already wormed its way into the discourse. More often than not, the pundit class ends up talking about the incendiary claims, instead of the pertinent questions that were dodged. This case, for all its ridiculousness, is no different.

Trump and Biden will likely never meet on the course to see who can hit the longest drive, but it would be fitting, in a way, if they did. It’s not what the American people deserve, and yet it seems only right for an election that feels like a slow and steady march toward dysfunction and disappointment—between two men who cannot seem to step aside—to end in a measuring contest.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top