Trump doesn't actually want to debate Biden. It's a distraction from his hush money trial.

Donald Trump is completely predictable when cornered by a problem of his own making.

The one-term president is predisposed to distraction, desperate to shift attention away from whatever mess he is facing, a shabby showman's time-worn "look over there at that" tactic.

Now, as the first former president to be a defendant in a criminal trial, Trump does not want you focused on the humiliating allegations of hush money paid to a porn star to keep quiet during the 2016 election about a tawdry tryst a decade earlier.

So – naturally – Trump is trying to get everyone talking about … debates.

That's right. Debates.

Trump's shift to talking about debates is a smokescreen

Trump launched his debate about debates last month in a post on his flailing social media platform Truth Social, proclaiming that he is eager to face Biden "ANYTIME, ANYWHERE, ANYPLACE!" He has returned to that several times this month, including during a rally he held Saturday.

Biden, asked last month whether he'd commit to debating Trump, said that "it depends on his behavior."

Biden should do with Trump's pleas – for now – what the presumptive Republican nominee did with his party's primary debates since last year. Just ignore them.

Have we forgotten what the 2020 debates were like?

It would be completely understandable if you have memory-holed Trump's petulant performances in the 2020 debates – his complete lack of control, his deceitful wailing about unfair treatment, the stupefaction of his invective and inadequacy.

But we have to go there. We need revisit that.

Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden debate on Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.
Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden debate on Oct. 22, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn.

In Cleveland on Sept. 29, 2020, Trump interrupted Biden and debate moderator Chris Wallace so many times – at least 128 by a count compiled by Slatethat Biden asked in frustration, "Will you shut up, man?" and complained, "It’s hard to get any word in with this clown."

The reviews were brutal for Trump. A Politico/Morning Consult poll after that first debate gave Biden the victory, 50% to 34%, with 71% of the voters surveyed saying Trump interrupted Biden more than Biden interrupted him.

Trump, we now know, showed up in Cleveland after testing positive for COVID-19. He then skipped the second debate, planned for that Oct. 15, because he was furious that the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates planned to make it a virtual event due to his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Let's repeat that – Trump showed up to the first debate with COVID-19 and then got mad when the organizers tried to get him to Zoom the second debate because of his COVID-19 diagnosis.

If you were Biden, would you seriously listen to a word Trump says about debates?

They actually had to mute Trump

The debate commission found a fix for Trump for the final debate a week later in Nashville, Tennessee – a mute button for his microphone.

His camp whined that the mute button was proof the debate commission favored Biden. That also is a predictable response for Trump – first provoke a situation, then play victim to it.

Just the idea of a mute button did improve the debate. The Commission on Presidential Debates told me this week that because there were no interruptions in the opening statements, it didn't have to be used in the rest of the final confrontation.

But there were still issues.

Do Trump supporters care? I asked Trump supporters if they're worried about his Stormy Daniels trial. 'Hell no.'

A USA TODAY analysis found that Trump interrupted Biden or debate moderator Kristen Welker 50 times, compared with 37 interruptions from Biden. Welker was forced to interrupt Trump 48 times but just five times for Biden for speaking past the allotted time.

A Politico/Morning Consult poll after the final debate found that 54% of registered voters surveyed said Biden won while 39% favored Trump.

Trump's call for a debate was the distraction he thinks is needed

The Commission on Presidential Debates has proposed three presidential debates this year, with the first one still five months away.

A dozen news organizations, including USA TODAY, on Sunday issued a joint statement calling on Trump and Biden to commit to debates this fall. But that's not what Trump is asking for here.

He wants debates now. He called for that again during a rally Saturday in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, where his staff set up a second podium for Trump to point to while calling on Biden to debate.

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Sideshow theatrics won't sway Biden. Trump probably knows that.

Even so, it gives the former president something to talk about other than the start of the first of his four criminal trials and the eventual testimony of a porn star about his efforts to keep her silent.

Any debate between Trump and Biden requires rules

While we wait on debates, let's learn from the lessons of 2020.

Trump is screaming for debates because he needs a platform that creates attention for something other than four pending criminal cases. But those cases are just more proof that we can't expect him to play by the old and outdated rules of debating. This is a politician who lies at at such a swift pace that fact-checkers can find it difficult to keep up.

Republicans catering to Russia: Marjorie Taylor Greene doesn't want to help Ukraine. That's exactly what Russia wants.

Biden has the leverage here. And he should use it. Let Trump grumble and groan for a while about debates. Keep the focus where it should be for now, on holding him accountable in court.

Then, offer to debate only if Trump concedes to a new and improved set of strict and enforceable rules that empowers that mute button if he tries his old tricks. Because he will. He always does.

Trump is sitting in a courtroom this week, with a judge keeping a close eye on his behavior, admonishing him Tuesday for muttering while a potential juror was interviewed. Protocols are being enforced and decorum is being demanded from him.

Debates deserve no less.

Follow USA TODAY elections columnist Chris Brennan on X, formerly known as Twitter: @ByChrisBrennan

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump wants to debate Biden. It's to distract from hush money trial