The further President Trump descends into mental chaos, no doubt aggravated by the realization he’s badly in over his head, the more frequent, ridiculous and easily mocked his lies become. He lies about the hurricane misinformation he propounded. He lies about getting calls from Chinese officials. He lies about not making money off his presidency, about the strength of the economy and about almost any policy issue or political matter.

Coal is back! Nonsense, say the coal miners:

The president of United Mine Workers of America said Wednesday that the coal industry is not “back,” despite President Donald Trump’s claims.
Cecil Roberts said at an event in Washington that his message to Trump and others running for president in 2020 is: “Coal’s not back. Nobody saved the coal industry.” He said coal-fired plants are closing all over the country, calling it a “harsh reality.” . . . More coal-fired power plants have closed under Trump than during former Obama’s first term, largely because of free-market forces.

China is paying for the tariffs! Nonsense, say the farmers.

The wall is being built! Nonsense, says anyone not inside the right-wing bubble. (The wall has been replaced and upgraded but not a millimeter of new wall has been constructed.)

And that raises an interesting question: How does Trump prevent his willfully ignorant voters from learning about his lies if they all tune in to see him debate the Democratic nominee?

The moderator(s) will be under heavy pressure to fact-check, and the Democratic nominee will come armed with reality. The way Trump keeps his cult followers in the dark is by shielding them from independent sources; feeding them a steady diet of lies via Fox News; steering clear of tough, independent interviewers; and conducting a monologue, more like a stream of consciousness, his base watching on with rapt attention.

He shows up at a general election debate, and suddenly his audience/cult-followers hear all sorts of things. Trump might find it hard to answer for his big and little lies and might get tripped up when asked about things he knows nothing about (FARC?).

And, if by the debates, the economy has slowed to a crawl or fallen into a recession, one can imagine the glee with which the Democratic nominee will repeat Trump’s boast that he brought the greatest economy ever and that trade wars are quick and easily won.

The obvious escape hatch for Trump would to be demand Sean Hannity moderate the debates and, when that’s rejected, refuse to show up. He’ll huff and puff about not wanting to share his audience with the Democratic nominee. He’ll claim the fake news media’s moderator has it in for him. Whatever discomfort that causes will nevertheless pale in comparison to the nightmare of having to answer for his actions.

When Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) says she is going to prosecute the case against Trump, she — or whoever is the nominee — had better get ready to try him in absentia.

Now that could be amusing too, that is, if the nominee shows up to debate an empty podium or, better yet, totes around a cardboard cutout of the president to every rally and town hall, asking impertinent questions such as: How could you be so foolish as to think the brutal dictator of North Korea “likes you and then let him get away with ongoing missile tests?

The nominee might bring some other visual aids to show the cardboard Trump. Here’s a map of the border, Mr. President, and you don’t see any new wall, do you? Mexico never paid for the wall did it?

As humiliating as that might be for Trump, he would at least be secure in the knowledge that Fox would ignore the one-sided inquisitions. At least he could bypass the nightmare he — and all narcissists — dread: humiliation.

Trump cannot admit error, cannot accept blame and cannot stand to be shown up. He has refused to even admit that he used a doctored map to defend his misstatement about the hurricane hitting Alabama and, worse, dragooned a rear admiral serving as a homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to throw away his reputation by attesting that he briefed Trump on the “possibility of tropical storm force winds in southeastern Alabama.”

Would someone who cannot allow himself to be proved wrong on such a tiny matter allow himself to be criticized, mocked and proved wrong for hours on a prime-time debate stage? I’d forecast, with medium to high probability, that he’ll duck out of all or most of the debates.

Read more:

Ed Rogers: Will Trump’s behavior decide the 2020 election?

Jennifer Rubin: Democrats’ five-count political indictment of Trump

Paul Waldman: Why Democratic ideas will dominate the 2020 campaign

Greg Sargent: Trump is in serious danger, and his own advisers know it

Paul Waldman: Trump’s border wall is now a monument to his failure