President Trump on Thursday indicated he would not participate in the next presidential debate, scheduled for October 15, after the format was changed Fox News reported. The second presidential debate was to be held in Miami and follow a town hall format.
The Commission on Presidential Debates said in an announcement on Thursday that “the second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations.” The debate’s host, Steve Scully from C-SPAN, would moderate in Miami with a group of voters in attendance.
Trump said that he was not interested in participating in the altered format. “The commission changed the debate style and that’s not acceptable to us,” Trump said. “I beat him in the first debate, I beat him easily.”
“I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” Trump said about the changed format. “I’m not going to waste my time at a virtual debate.”
The president denounced the virtual debate concept as “ridiculous,” saying that he wasn’t going to “sit at a computer” in a remote location.
Trump suggested an ulterior motive from the debate commission. “They’re trying to protect Biden,” Trump said. “Everybody is.” Democratic nominee Joe Biden has spent most of the general election campaigning from his Delaware home, only recently emerging to attend events in person.
The CPD’s decision came the day after the lone vice-presidential debate between VP Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA). During that debate, the candidates were spaced 12 feet apart and were both behind plexiglass barriers.
No official explanation was given by the CPD for the change to a virtual format, although it was presumably done due to the president’s positive COVID-19 result last week. President Trump spent last weekend getting treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center and returned to the White House on Monday afternoon.
Bill Stepien, Trump campaign manager, accused the CPD of coming to Biden’s “defense by unilaterally canceling an in-person debate.” He continued, “That’s not what debates are about or how they’re done. Here are the facts: President Trump will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate, so there is no need for this unilateral declaration. The safety of all involved can easily be achieved without canceling a chance for voters to see both candidates go head to head. We’ll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead.”
According to NPR’s Mara Liasson, ever since his positive COVID test Trump’s agenda is clear. “He’s sending a very clear message since he came out of the hospital that he wants to get back to normal. He was working in the Oval Office yesterday,” she said. “And the president clearly wants to send a message that everything is back to normal. And if you do a virtual debate, that says very loud and clear that things are not back to normal.”
Liasson’s analysis fits with the president’s attitude throughout the coronavirus pandemic. He was against the massive shutdown of the economy encouraged by mostly Democratic governors across the country and has sought to reopen the nation and get the economy back on track for months.
For now, it appears that the two campaigns are going to hold dueling, but separate, events next Thursday, although plans may change before then. The third and final presidential debate is scheduled for October 22nd in Nashville.