Second Presidential Debate Switched to Virtual Format; Trump Refuses to Participate

It’s been less than a week since President Donald J Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, along with First Lady Melania

Trump and Biden Virtual Debate

It’s been less than a week since President Donald J Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, along with First Lady Melania Trump and over 30 of the president’s inner circle. After a contentious first debate, both candidates were looking forward to a chance to take the stage again. Once the president was diagnosed, the future of debates was thrown into question. However, the Commission on Presidential Debates has handed down their plan for the next debate, and the president is planting his feet and refusing to participate. 

The First Debate Was a Throwdown

The first presidential debate between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was just short of an all-out brawl. Although no punches were exchanged, verbal jabs and stabs flew across the stage. Critics suggested that the President was rude, unhinged, and spoke over the former Vice President frequently. Biden, clearly annoyed, was criticized for calling the President a clown. 

After the debate, both sides claimed victory, with viewers giving the former VP a slight edge over the President in post-debate polls. With Biden leading in every poll among likely voters heading into the debate, Trump needed to gain ground with undecided or lukewarm voters. It appears that his performance did not do that, and Biden’s lead widened in the days after the debate. 

Trump is Diagnosed With COVID-19

After the Tuesday debate performance, media outlets and political pundits focused on Trump’s performance and inability to gain ground with the voting blocs he most needed to. But the news cycle would be suddenly and completely diverted after the President and First Lady announced late Thursday that they were positive for COVID-19. 

A lot of questions remain about when the President last tested negative and if he knew he was positive going into the Tuesday debate with Biden. However, most of the media coverage focused on the fact that, shortly after being diagnosed, Trump was taken to Walter Reed Medical Center to receive the kind of treatment usually reserved for only the sickest coronavirus patients. 

Biden Says the Debate Shouldn’t Happen

Joe Biden Debate

With Trump testing positive around the 1st of October, and the second debate planned for October 15th, Biden said he didn’t believe the debate should go forward if the President was contagious. While the typical quarantine period for COVID-19 is 10-14 days, severe cases can be recommended to quarantine for up to 20. 

NBC reports what Biden said; “‘I think we are going to have to follow very strict guidelines — too many people have been infected and it’s a very serious problem, and so I’ll be guided by the guidelines of the Cleveland Clinic and what the docs say.’”

Trump, however, refused to commit to health and safety protocols. Per NBC, “Asked whether the campaign will comply with testing requirements and any additional health measures for the debate in light of Trump’s diagnosis, campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh simply responded: ‘The president intends to participate in person.’”

The Commission on Presidential Debates clearly agreed that something should be done to meet health and safety needs. Thursday they announced their solution.

Debate Commission Offers a Solution, Trump Says No

Thursday morning, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that they had found a solution. The town hall-style debate would be held virtually, with each candidate participating from separate locations. 

Minutes later, Trump was on Fox Business complaining that he wouldn’t participate because it would be a waste of time. CNN reports, “‘I am not going to do a virtual debate,’ Trump said on Fox Business. ‘I am not going to waste my time on a virtual debate.’”

The Biden campaign agreed to the new format quickly. The Trump campaign accused, without proof, that the debate Commission was favoring the Biden campaign by changing the rules. The Biden campaign demurred, saying that the decision had been made unilaterally and without their input. 

Per CNN, “Frank Fahrenkopf, head of the debate commission, told CNN that the commission spoke with both campaigns ‘just before’ they announced that the second debate would be held virtually.

‘We did not consult with them,’ he said, adding that their decision is ‘supported by the Cleveland Clinic,’ the commission’s health advisers.”

The Second Debate Is In Doubt

Donald Trump Speaking

With the President unhappy with a virtual format, it’s unclear as to whether the second debate will occur at all. With Biden coming away from the first debate with a slight edge, and widening his lead in the polls, Trump needs the second debate. Although he worries about being cut off and losing the ability to physically dominate as he is want to do in personal interactions, he may not have a choice. It definitely works in Biden’s favor if Trump refuses to participate because the performance he has last on the records is not a bad one.

There’s no advantage to the Biden campaign agreeing to an in-person debate and putting their candidate at risk, so Trump will either have to agree to the virtual format or skip the debate. Both would require Trump to concede, something he never does. We will follow the story and bring you updates once we know what the future of the second debate will bring.