More than 73 million Americans watched the first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden; the president seemed quite pleased with this, tweeting, “HIGHEST CABLE TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. SECOND HIGHEST OVERALL TELEVISION RATINGS OF ALL TIME. Some day these Fake Media Companies are going to miss me, very badly!!!”
In light of that, I will be genuinely surprised if Trump does not participate at all in a debate a week from tonight. It’s just too big an opportunity and too big a potential audience, for a presidential campaign that needs to gain traction in a slew of big swing states.
This morning, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that for the second debate, the candidates would “participate from separate remote locations.” Trump and his team find this unacceptable.
“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.”
– Bill Stepien, Trump 2020 campaign manager
(Stepien tested positive for coronavirus Friday and is in quarantine.)
Trump thinks he has enough leverage to get the CPD to change their decision, and maybe he does. He wants the visual of himself, tall and strong, healthy behind that podium, and possibly Biden wearing a mask the whole night. A virtual debate lessens the visual impact, although it probably would actually be a format that would rein in Trump’s worst instincts. I cannot begrudge the almost-78-year-old Biden or anyone else wanting to remain more than six feet away from the president (and perhaps the whole White House entourage) seven nights from now.
Trump’s current refusal also takes over the news cycle. We are now in for several days and nights of “Will he or won’t he? Stay tuned for the next episode of The Apprentice!” where most members of the political media world will be on the edge of their seats, wondering what he will do. That’s just where Trump wants them.