Trump Refuses To Attend Second Presidential Debate After Change To Virtual Format

Topline

President Donald Trump and his campaign said they will not participate in the second presidential debate October 15 because a virtual format is “not acceptable,” after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced Thursday that the debate would change its format so that both candidates are participating remotely due to Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis.

Key Facts

Under the virtual format, Trump and Joe Biden would have each participated from “separate remote locations,” CPD said, while moderator Steve Scully, the Senior Executive Producer and Political Editor at C-SPAN, would appear in person with the town hall participants at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami as planned.

The Trump campaign said in a statement it would not participate in the debate and will hold a rally instead, claiming holding the debate virtually is unnecessary because Trump “will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate.”

CPD head Frank Fahrenkopf told CNN the commission did not consult with the campaigns on the format change, and said “there is no law requiring any presidential candidate to debate,” so it is up to Trump to determine if he wants to participate.

The Biden campaign said in a statement it would “find an appropriate place to take questions from voters directly” on Oct. 15 in lieu of the debate, and called for a town hall-style debate to take place on Oct. 22 instead so that Trump can’t “evade accountability.”

In a subsequent statement, the Trump campaign agreed to the Oct. 22 date but said the third debate should be held Oct. 29, which the Biden campaign rejected.

Physicians told the Los Angeles Times that it is possible Trump would still be contagious and capable of spreading Covid-19 by the Oct. 15 debate.

Crucial Quote

“I’m not gonna do a virtual debate,” Trump said on Fox Business Thursday morning, saying the format was “not acceptable to us” and he’s “not going to waste my time.” “That’s not what debating’s all about, you sit behind a computer and do a debate, it’s ridiculous.”

Chief Critic

“Joe Biden was prepared to accept the CPD’s proposal for a virtual Town Hall, but the President has refused, as Donald Trump clearly does not want to face questions from the voters about his failures on Covid and the economy,” Biden Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement Thursday calling for the town hall format to move to Oct. 22. “The voters should have a chance to ask questions of both candidates, directly. Every Presidential candidate since 1992 has participated in such an event, and it would be a shame if Donald Trump was the first to refuse.”

Big Number

41%. That’s the percentage of voters who believed the second debate should be held virtually, according to a Morning Consult poll released Wednesday before CPD’s announcement, as compared with only 20% who wanted it held outside and 16% who believed it should still take place indoors. Democrats, Republicans and Independents all showed the most support for holding the event virtually.

Surprising Fact

Trump is not the first president to refuse to participate in a presidential debate: Former President Jimmy Carter backed out of a presidential debate in 1980 against then-candidate Ronald Reagan, due to the involvement of Independent candidate John Anderson.

Key Background

The first presidential debate has come under widespread scrutiny in the wake of Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis, as the president was likely already infected with Covid-19 during the debate before reportedly developing symptoms Wednesday and announcing his positive result early Friday morning. Biden has so far tested negative for Covid-19 despite standing indoors near Trump during the 90-minute debate, with neither candidate wearing a mask, but the event has drawn controversy due to the fact that Trump was not tested for Covid-19 before the debate, according to moderator Chris Wallace, and his family members did not wear masks during the event as required. In the wake of Trump’s diagnosis, the vice presidential debate Wednesday night took additional health precautions, putting plexiglass dividers between candidates—which experts said could be “pretty useless” in preventing Covid-19 transmission—and mandating that any audience members not wearing a mask will be asked to leave.

Further Reading

Biden Says Second Debate Should Be Canceled If Trump Still Has Covid (Forbes)

Pence Permits Plexiglass Barrier At VP Debate With Harris (Forbes)

The Complete Trump Covid-19 Timeline: What We Know About The President’s Diagnosis—And What We Don’t (Forbes)

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