The next presidential debate will be virtual — but Trump says he won’t attend

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This combination of pictures created on September 29, 2020, shows Democratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden and US President Donald Trump speaking during the first presidential debate in Cleveland, Ohio. | Jim Watson, Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Whether the d

Following President Donald Trump’s recent Covid-19 diagnosis, the next presidential debate is scheduled to be be conducted remotely. Whether it will be held is in doubt, however, with Trump saying on Fox Business Monday, “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate.”

After a chaotic first debate that left Trump lagging in the polls, the president and Democratic nominee Joe Biden were scheduled to debate each other on Thursday, October 15. The debate — if it proceeds — will be moderated by C-SPAN political editor Steve Scully. It would be the first remote debate, and would follows in person presidential and vice presidential debates that raised questions about safety — particularly after Trump began to experience Covid-19 symptoms days after debating Biden in Cleveland, Ohio.

The debate is currently scheduled to air live on ABC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, Fox, and NBC from 9 to 10:30 pm ET, and will be conducted with Biden and Trump at “separate remote locations,” according to the Commission on Presidential Debates. (That’s 8-9:30 pm CT, 7-8:30 pm MT, and 6-7:30 pm PT.) The debate was set to have a town hall format; Scully and the town hall participants will partake in the event from the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami as originally planned.

Much has changed since the first debate on September 29. Most importantly, Trump is in isolation in the White House after testing positive for Covid-19 on October 2. Trump has been treated with a number of cutting-edge therapies for the deadly airborne coronavirus, but Biden has said he is hesitant to appear onstage with Trump because he could still be contagious on the day of the debate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people who have Covid-19 stay away from others for at least 10 days following the appearance of symptoms, and notes that patients who — like Trump — were hospitalized and needed oxygen may be wise to self-isolate for at least 20 days. The debate date would seem to fall after the 10-day window, but before the 20-day mark, based on what is publicly known about the onset of the president’s symptoms.

“I think if he still has Covid, we shouldn’t have a debate,” Biden told reporters Tuesday after delivering a speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, adding, “Too many people have been infected. It’s a very serious problem, so I will be guided by the guidelines of the Cleveland Clinic and what the docs say is the right thing to do.”

Recently, Trump had seemed eager to debate despite is still being treated for Covid-19, tweeting, “I am looking forward to the debate on the evening of Thursday, October 15th in Miami. It will be great!”

However, in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business Thursday, the president pushed back against the idea of a virtual debate, saying, “That’s not what debating’s all about; you sit behind a computer and do a debate, it’s ridiculous. And then they cut you off whenever they want.”

Ultimately, the Commission for Presidential Debates and the Cleveland Clinic, which is partnering with the commission to keep the debates safe, decided that an in person debate would be far too great a health risk. Organizers’ ability to conduct debates safely was called into question during the first event, during which Trump’s entire family declined to wear face masks throughout the proceedings. Wednesday night, some Pence supporters — including his wife, Karen Pence — failed to follow masking protocol. And following the first debate, the city of Cleveland reported at least 11 people became infected; city officials said the cases originated from the pre-debate planning and set-up.

Covid-19 testing for Trump and Biden was up to the campaigns before the September 29 debate, and it’s not clear when Trump’s last negative test was.

There’s still one more presidential debate scheduled after Miami

The final presidential debate — on October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee — remains on the Commission for Presidential Debates’ schedule. NBC anchor Kristen Welker has been selected to moderate that event; whether it too will be virtual, and whether Trump will be willing to participate, is not yet clear.

With just weeks to go before the November 3 election, Biden’s advantage in the polls has only increased since the first debate and Trump’s Covid-19 diagnosis. His national polling average on FiveThirtyEight rose from 7 percentage points last week to 9 percentage points as of Tuesday.

Biden is carrying a somewhat narrower lead in critical swing states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Arizona, according to RealClearPolitics averages. Several polls after the first debate showed that voters did not like Trump’s constant interruptions of Biden during the first debate.

Polling also seems to suggest the first debate solidified two worrying trends for the president; the movement of older voters and suburban women away from Trump and toward Biden. A recent CNN poll showed Biden winning older voters by 22 percentage points, and a post-debate poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal found the Democrat leading the president by 25 percentage points among suburban women.

It remains to be seen how much — or little — the second debate, and the final one on October 22, will shift those numbers.


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