Trump Rejects Virtual Debate

His campaign now wants more live debates.

President Donald Trump turned the first debate into a shit show with his constant interruptions and pandering to racist extremists. Now, he’s put the next ones into serious doubt.

Michael M. Grynbaum and Maggie Haberman reporting for the New York Times (“Trump’s Objection to Virtual Plan Puts Next Debate in Jeopardy“):

The next presidential debate fell into serious jeopardy on Thursday after President Trump said he would refuse to participate in a virtual matchup and Joseph R. Biden Jr. pledged to hold an alternative town hall with voters on the night of the scheduled event.

The extraordinary developments came after Mr. Trump rejected plans by the Commission on Presidential Debates to have the candidates square off remotely from separate locations on Oct. 15, rather than onstage in Miami, citing health concerns about the coronavirus.

Mr. Trump, whose recent contraction of the coronavirus was a significant impetus for the commission to modify its plans, immediately dismissed the idea of a virtual debate as “ridiculous” and accused the debate commission without evidence of seeking to protect his Democratic opponent.

“No, I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” Mr. Trump told the Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo. “That’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous.”

The Biden campaign initially said it would welcome the virtual debate on Oct. 15, which was to follow a town-hall-style format with questions from Florida voters. But after Mr. Trump’s objections, aides to Mr. Biden said that the Democratic presidential nominee would “find an appropriate place to take questions from voters directly” that evening.

Hours later, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said that the president would agree to another debate if it were delayed by a week and held in-person on Oct. 22, a move that would potentially give Mr. Trump more time to recover from the coronavirus. Mr. Stepien also proposed an additional debate on a new date, Oct. 29, which has not previously been considered by the commission or the campaigns.

The debate commission, which did not respond to repeated requests for comment, did not consult with the Biden and Trump campaigns before announcing the virtual format early on Thursday. The decision came after members of the commission’s production team objected to the safety risks of staging another in-person event at an indoor venue, according to a person familiar with its deliberations.

There’s frankly no reasonable objection to holding the town-hall style “debate” in a virtual manner; indeed, for the viewing audience it would be practically indistinguishable. And, certainly, an 11th hour proposal to not only scramble the existing schedule but squeeze in a second debate is absurd; there’s simply no way the networks are going to jump through those hoops on short notice. For that matter, the Biden campaign has little to gain and everything to lose from such a move.

That said, it was asinine for the debate commission to announce a new format without agreement from both campaigns. Every tiny detail is negotiated for these things.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Argon says:

    That said, it was asinine for the debate commission to announce a new format without agreement from both campaigns. Every tiny detail is negotiated for these things.

    There were really only two options: Virtual town hall or cancel the debate. Trump opted to cancel on the basis of not being on the same physical stage with Biden. End of story

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  2. Slugger says:

    What are the odds that Trump will have a different opinion tomorrow and a third one the day after? Dexamethasone certainly can cause manic behavior, not in everybody but in vulnerable people for sure.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Argon: Sure. Regardless, the Debate Commission doesn’t have the authority to dictate terms to the President of the United States. It’s a perfectly reasonable call but campaigns obsess over who is on what side of the stage, the height of lecterns, etc. While I’m comfortable with it, I can see Trump not wanting to have to figure out Zoom or whatever on the fly.

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  4. Jay L Gischer says:

    I don’t think it was so dumb for them to do it. When you negotiate with Trump in private, he will lie about what everyone said afterwards. But the stakes here are too high.

    Besides, are we sure they just didn’t float this publicly as a proposal, but media reporting hasn’t been super accurate in that regard? It wouldn’t be the first time.

    Meanwhile, Trump was likely looking for an offramp, not wanting to hear more “Would you shut up, man?” Nobody says that to him at rallies.

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  5. CSK says:

    I understand that Rush Limbaugh announced today that tomorrow, Trump will be holding a “rally” on his show.

    Trump and Limbaugh devotees are hailing this as a “genius move,” since Limbaugh has, they claim, an audience of 50 million.

  6. Gustopher says:

    Mr. Trump, whose recent contraction of the coronavirus was a significant impetus for the commission to modify its plans, immediately dismissed the idea of a virtual debate as “ridiculous” and accused the debate commission without evidence of seeking to protect his Democratic opponent.

    I think the debate commission is attempting to protect Biden from Trump’s rolling covid festival. And that they should.

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  7. Argon says:

    @James Joyner:

    While I’m comfortable with it, I can see Trump not wanting to have to figure out Zoom or whatever on the fly

    I disagree with that fig leaf. It was never about that. Trump says the quiet parts out loud. He rejected the option because it meant he couldn’t be on stage across from Biden. He would never agree to any confrontation where he couldn’t be maskless on stage to project his ‘dominating’ persona or where he could have his mic cut off.

    Four years in, James, and you’re still thinking of Trump in conventional terms and assuming normal, sane behavior. A normal Presidential candidacy would well be concerned about every tiny detail and all the angles. Not Trump. He doesn’t give a crap about scheduling or tiny details. He just wants what his desperate id wants: Showy, dominating, unrestrained belligerence. Any forum that doesn’t provide that exhibition is never one he’ll voluntarily participate in. That’s why he’s going to do a objectively stupid, live rally instead.

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  8. Dean says:

    I just wanted to comment that in many years of reading OTB, I don’t remember Dr. Joyner using the term “shitshow”. This feels like a New England Journal of Medicine moment.

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  9. Jen says:

    Regardless, the Debate Commission doesn’t have the authority to dictate terms to the President of the United States.

    I understand what you’re saying here, but Trump was making it VERY clear that he wanted to be there, in-person, despite still being within the window of contagiousness for covid. (This is assuming, of course, that Trump et. al., aren’t lying about when he caught covid.)

    The commission had no choice but to dictate this, because it would have been foolish of them to hold it in-person. Seriously, what would be the Debate Commission’s liability in that situation? Knowingly moving ahead with an in-person event with a covid-positive candidate on stage?

    There was nothing to discuss. Either it was virtual (not unheard of, as Kennedy-Nixon had a debate remotely), or it got cancelled. They picked virtual, Trump went with cancelled.

    Trump wouldn’t have to figure out Zoom, his “people” do that. He simply wants to project that everything’s normal when it decidedly is not.

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  10. Jen says:

    To be honest, I’m still wondering if Trump knew that he was infected when he got on stage with Biden for the first debate. I can totally see him thinking “well, if I’ve got it, the only way this is fair is if my opponent has it too,” and wanting another crack at giving Biden covid. Yes, I think he’s that malicious.

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  11. Dean says:

    How is the media still falling for this?

    1. Necessary and common-sense precautions are taken to the format to protect everyone.
    2. Trump screams that he is taking his ball and going home.
    3. The commission on debates and Biden rightfully ignore him.
    4. A couple of days later he claims victory and accepts the changes.

    He has zero leverage here, we know how this plays out.

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  12. @James Joyner: The President and his entourage are an infectious disease vector. Their carelessness has created multiple geographic clusters of new infections that we know of. The debate commission has the right to protect itself and their employees’ health from individuals who are both known to be infectious per CDC guidelines and who won’t/can’t follow public health guidelines.

    The problem is the president.

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  13. JohnSF says:

    @James Joyner:

    “…figure out Zoom or whatever on the fly.”

    Sensible. Look at the problem Vice President Pence had with people zooming on the fly.

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  14. Mu Yixiao says:

    @JohnSF:

    Getting the fly on Zoom would probably be more coherent. 🙂

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  15. JohnSF says:

    @Mu Yixiao:
    I, for one, welcome our new insect Overlord.

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  16. Kylopod says:

    Remember when John McCain said he was “suspending his campaign” until a bailout was passed, then after Obama said he’d show up at the debate no matter what McCain did, McCain finally just buckled? The same thing is going to happen here. (If Trump’s condition doesn’t worsen….)

  17. EddieInCA says:

    @JohnSF:

    John wins the internets for the day.

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  18. KM says:

    @James Joyner:

    Regardless, the Debate Commission doesn’t have the authority to dictate terms to the President of the United States.

    Sure they do – he’s POTUS, not God-Emperor. He doesn’t have to accept or agree to them but they have the right to insist on basic safety for important government officials as well as their staff. This is about national security, as well as a coatigan issue. Think about it this way: there’s a very good chance the next POTUS could catch a deadly disease if they don’t do something to prevent it. Trump doesn’t get to try and assassinate his rival and future President because he doesn’t like having terms “dictated to him”. POTUS doesn’t get to get rid of security features for others because he doesn’t like it.

    Being POTUS is not a free pass to do as he pleases. The Debate Commission is making a decision that no reasonable person could object to based on current facts. If we expect the nation’s children to learn how to use Zoom daily, then Trump’s clearly not smarter than a 4th grader.

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  19. Kathy says:

    Zoom jokes aside, this is network or cable news TV. The candidates, at least, won’t be on Zoom, nor do they have to be at home. Trump should, because he’s supposed to be recovering (but, well, you know), but Biden could make his appearance at an auditorium, TV studio, etc. If getting a camera crew in the White House isn’t easy, it should be.

    The town hall guests might be on Zoom, or at some properly distanced and masked venue.

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  20. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Gustopher:

    I think the debate commission is attempting to protect Biden from Trump’s rolling covid festival. And that they should.

    Broader than that, the Commission is trying to protect all those who would need to be present in a live debate setting.

    @James, you are correct that the Commission cannot direct the President to do anything, but they can set the terms of the debate, which they did, and allow Trump and Biden to accept or reject those terms. Typically this would be done via negotiations, but these are extraordinary times and in my view, the Commission acted appropriately.

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  21. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    Regardless, the Debate Commission doesn’t have the authority to dictate terms to the President of the United States.

    The hell they don’t. They have the authority, you have that same authority.

    Say Trump, or a real president, wanted to go into your house and you did not want them to. there’s no law compelling you to let him in. You can dictate terms such as “fu*k off, clown!”

    Subordinates don’t have the authority to dictate terms to those above them in a hierarchy (though it does happen), The Debate Commission is neither an active member of the military, nor does ti work for the Executive branch.

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  22. Jen says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    but they can set the terms of the debate, which they did, and allow Trump and Biden to accept or reject those terms.

    More precisely, they allowed Trump to accept and then ignore the terms set for the first debate, which probably factored into the “we are going to set the terms” language that was used today.

  23. Monala says:

    @KM: About this:

    This is about national security, as well as a coatigan issue.

    I had never heard the term coatigan, so I looked it up, and online dictionaries tell me it is a piece of clothing that is a cross between a coat and a cardigan. I’m sure that’s not what you meant, so can you tell me what the meaning is in your sentence above?

  24. Teve says:

    @CSK:

    Trump and Limbaugh devotees are hailing this as a “genius move,” since Limbaugh has, they claim, an audience of 50 million.

    It’s been 20 years since I was in radio, but if I remember correctly, how that scam works is they take Arbitron estimates of 10 million people Monday, 10 million people Tuesday, etc., then by Friday claim they’ve got 50 million listeners.

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  25. CSK says:

    @Teve:
    Ah, interesting.
    This is typical Trump. Chances are practically everyone who’s a Limbaugh devotee is going to vote for Trump anyway, so this is just preaching to the converted, which is basically all he wants to do and all he feels he needs to do.

  26. DrDaveT says:

    @Monala:

    I had never heard the term coatigan, so I looked it up

    I assumed a typo for “contagion”.

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