Election 2020

The Trump Campaign Is on Solid Ground Refusing a Virtual Debate

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Early this morning, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the next debate, scheduled for October 15, will be virtual. The reason given was health and safety, alluding to the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis.

This is an obvious pretext as the CDC guidelines currently state that a patient who no longer has a fever, while not on fever-reducing medications, has improving symptoms, and is 10 days beyond symptom onset is no longer infectious. According to the CDC, this period may be extended in severe cases, but this does not apply to President Trump.

Yesterday’s update from the president’s physician noted that he has been fever-free for four days and symptom-free for 24 hours. His bloodwork is also positive for detectable levels of antibodies to the COVID-19 infection. This makes it even less likely he is shedding virus capable of causing an infection. It also states that his oxygen saturation level and respiratory rate are all in the normal range.

This becomes even more ridiculous when you read that the moderator and participants at the virtual town hall will be located in the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. According to the announcement, it looks as if the White House press pool will be there as well. The debate stage could be easily distanced out of an abundance of caution, though it is not really necessary to change the positioning from the last debate.

Biden is also traveling to Nevada on Friday to campaign in person. With the CDC announcement yesterday confirming that the virus is airborne, this is a much bigger risk than being distanced on a stage with a recovered patient. Tightening polls must be more important for the Biden campaign than outlining your policies to the American people, or they would not risk their nominee’s health this way.

Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien responded to the announcement with the following statement:

President Trump won the first debate despite a terrible and biased moderator in Chris Wallace, and everybody knows it. 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. 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.

President Trump echoed this sentiment in an appearance with Maria Bartiromo this morning. According to Fox News:

“The commission changed the debate style and that’s not acceptable to us,” Trump said on “Mornings with Maria.” “I beat him in the first debate, I beat him easily.”

The president added that he expected to “beat him in the second debate also.”

“I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” Trump went on. “I’m not going to waste my time at a virtual debate.”

The president said he wasn’t going to “sit at a computer” to debate, calling it “ridiculous.”

“They’re trying to protect Biden,” Trump said. “Everybody is.”

Given that Joe Biden reportedly uses a teleprompter during scheduled television interviews and remote appearances, there is simply no reason to trust his team not to use these kinds of support methods during a second debate. His campaign will not answer questions regarding this, pretty much telling everyone what they need to know. Biden uses technical assistance.

Joe Biden is not really able to do extemporaneous exchanges with a high degree of confidence. One thing President Trump could have done more effectively in the last debate was to let Biden talk more. The longer he talks, the more his cognitive issues are on display.

The Trump team refusing to do a virtual debate is the best response to this needless move by the Commission. It is about an “abundance of caution” for something—but it is not the participants’ health. If this were the case, the moderator, press, and town hall participants would not be gathering at the venue.

However, they should add a few other reasons. First, neither Biden nor his running mate is willing to answer fundamental policy questions related to Supreme Court-packing, the filibuster, or adding states to the union. American voters deserve answers to these questions before voting.

Next, the “impartial moderator” interned for Joe Biden and worked for Senator Ted Kennedy. We have already had one moderator step in and save Biden from having to answer difficult questions. There is little reason to believe this one will be any different.

The Trump campaign has two core skills that should help them directly take their case to the American people in the next four weeks: the ability to meme and the production value of their events and video. These have been evident through the campaign and highlighted during the Republican National Convention. They need to use them to make rallies visual and targeted. A little more teleprompter for Trump would also not be a bad idea.

We are in the home stretch—energy and message discipline matter. The first is easy. President Trump did more while hospitalized than Joe Biden did last weekend. Even COVID-19 can’t keep him down. Now refine the message and drive it home.

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