President Donald Trump is unhappy with a new presidential debate format announced Thursday morning that would have the two candidates appear virtually, telling an interviewer he would not agree to the new written terms following his hospitalization with the coronavirus.
“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That is not the point of the debate,” Trump said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network.
The Non-partisan Presidential Debates Commission said in a statement that the Oct. 15 event would benefit Americans’ work and social life since the pandemic – a virtual debate with the two candidates appearing from a distance.
Photos: Donald Trump, last 2 weeks
“In order to protect the health and safety of all those involved in the second presidential debate, scheduled for October 15, 2020 …
City meeting attendees and moderator Steve Scully of C-SPAN will be on-site at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami-Dade County in Miami, the commission said. The White House press pool will provide coverage of the event.
But shortly after the announcement, Trump dismissed the idea in the TV interview, casting doubt on the fate of the scheduled second debate. Nonetheless, Trump said in the program that he “looks forward to making the rallies.”
Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien – who has tested positive for COVID – issued a statement saying “we will pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and have a rally instead.” Candidates are not required to participate in the debates.
The Biden campaign, which had accepted the new format, said it was ready to follow the commission’s plan.
“Vice President Biden is eager to speak directly to the American people and compare his plan to bring the country together and rebuild better with Donald Trump’s failed leadership on the coronavirus which has plunged the strong economy he inherited into the worst. downturn since the Great Depression, “campaign spokeswoman Kate Bedingfeld said in a statement.
The commission’s announcement comes the morning after the vice presidential debate, when Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris of California were separated by 12 feet and plexiglass partitions. This latest accommodation, initially opposed by Pence’s team, was made after Trump was hospitalized with COVID-19.
Even with the virus, Trump continued to downplay the severity of the disease, telling viewers in a video after his return, “Don’t be afraid of COVID,” and not to let the virus rule their lives. In another video Wednesday, hours before the vice-presidential standoff, Trump said his illness may have been a “blessing from God” as it elevated Regeneron, a still unproven drug to treat COVID-19, as a remedy.
Next Thursday’s debate presented Trump with a conundrum: If he attended in person, he risked worsening his own health and potentially infecting others. But not attending would remind Americans of the urgency of the virus, which has killed more than 212,000 Americans. The virtual format makes it easier for Trump to participate without the personal or public health implications of an on-site appearance.
Democratic candidate Joe Biden – who competed in an individual town hall Monday night in Miami on NBC – has tended to do better in town hall formats, where he can personally connect with voters and express empathy. But appearing practically denies Biden that personal connection.
Trump tends to do best in large worshiping crowds, feeding off public reaction. If Trump’s refusal on Thursday morning to participate in the new format means it won’t happen, however, the president is likely to appear weak, fearing to face Biden as the Democrat leads in double digits in national polls.