Citing health concerns, the Commission on Presidential Debates on Thursday said that the second debate between President Trump and Joe Biden would be a virtual one, with the candidates in “separate remote locations.” President Trump quickly announced that he was out.
“I heard that the commission a little while ago changed the debate style, and that’s not acceptable to us,” Trump told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo Thursday morning. “I’m not going to do a virtual debate.”
“I am not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That’s not what debating is all about, you sit behind a computer and do a debate. That’s ridiculous, they cut you off whenever they want,” he added.
The debate commission sent out a press release Thursday morning announcing the rule change, citing the need to “protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate” scheduled for October 15.
“The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations,” the group said. (Aside: use of the auxiliary verb “would” to express a conditional mood rather than the affirmative “will” is interesting here. It suggests that the debate commission had a pretty good idea this thing wasn’t going to happen—but maybe I’m just reading too much into an inartful word choice.)
While the press release didn’t mention President Trump’s battle with COVID-19, there’s no doubt his diagnosis and hospitalization over the weekend at Walter Reed hospital prompted the move.
The commission went on to say that moderator Steve Scully (a former Biden intern) would be broadcasting from a location in Miami, along with the production team and the C-SPAN networks, while the candidates would be in separate remote locations.
“For the swamp creatures at the Presidential Debate Commission to now rush to Joe Biden’s defense by unilaterally canceling an in-person debate is pathetic,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement. “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.”
Incidentally, this wouldn’t have been the first time presidential candidates squared off from separate locations. The third debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960 was a split-screen telecast with Nixon in an ABC studio in Los Angeles and Kennedy at an ABC studio in New York.