By Lucia Leal
Washington DC, Oct 8 (efe-epa).- President Donald Trump on Thursday refused to participate in the second presidential debate if it is held virtually, and he attempted to disrupt the election calendar by asking that the dates be changed for the two remaining encounters with Democratic challenger Joe Biden, whose campaign rejected that notion out of hand.
The new round of chaos began early Thursday morning, when the independent Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced that it had decided to hold the second encounter between Trump and Biden virtually “to protect the health and safety of all involved.”
The debate was to have been held in Miami on Oct. 15, two weeks after Trump tested positive for Covid-19, and that diagnosis, along with the multiple infections that have occurred among White House workers close to Trump in the past week, had sparked concern among the debate organizers.
In a telephone interview with Fox Business Channel shortly after the announcement, Trump said that he is not “contagious” – a claim that has not been proven and which flies in the face of standard medical understanding – and harshly criticized the CPD decision, saying that “I’m not gonna waste my time on a personal debate. Sit behind a computer, ridiculous. They cut you off… I’m not doing a virtual debate.”
Trump’s campaign director, Bill Stepien, announced almost immediately that, instead of debating, Trump will hold a campaign rally with his followers on the same night that the debate was to have been held, a move that left Biden in a somewhat awkward position.
The Democratic candidate initially reacted with skepticism, telling reporters that Trump “changes his mind every second” and that nobody knows what will ultimately happen.
However, Biden’s campaign did not waste any time in announcing that the former vice president will not participate in the Oct. 15 debate either due to Trump’s refusal to accept the virtual format, and that instead he would find an appropriate site where he could “directly” respond to voters’ questions on that night.
The Miami debate was not going to be a classical face-to-face discussion between the two men, but rather it had been arranged for undecided voters – and not a moderator – to pose the questions to the two candidates in a “town hall” setting.
Biden’s communications director, Kate Bedingfield, alleged that Trump’s real motive for saying he did not want to participate in a virtual debate is because he does not want to respond directly to voters’ questions regarding his much-criticized – from Democrats, at least – handling of the pandemic and the economy. Therefore, she asked the CPD to modify the format of the third and last debate, scheduled for Oct. 22, to include questions from voters.
Trump’s campaign responded to that suggestion almost immediately and proposed that the debate with voters’ questions be held on Oct. 22, and that there be a third debate, as originally planned, but that it be postponed until Oct. 29, five days before the election.
Stepien attacked the CPD, saying that the American people should not be denied the chance to see the two candidates debate twice more prior to Nov. 3 simply because it “wants to protect Joe Biden.” But Biden’s team reacted to that by emphasizing that the president does not set the debate rules and that if he had decided to withdraw from the second debate, “Trump’s erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar, and pick new dates of his choosing.”
With the CPD not yet having come out with a definitive statement about what will occur with the debate calendar, the only thing that appears to be clear is that there will be no debate on Oct. 15, and it remains to be determined whether the debate on Oct. 22 will be held in Miami – to replace the Oct. 15 encounter – or in Nashville, Tennessee, the already-scheduled site for the third one.
Debates generally don’t change the minds of many voters, and even less so when millions of Americans have already sent in their ballots by mail, but they do allow people to hear from candidates who, because of the coronavirus pandemic, have had to curtail a large portion of what would otherwise have been very normal meet-and-greet campaigns with big rallies.
Trump got no post-debate bounce in the polls after his first faceoff with Biden last week, and the former VP since then has widened his lead, which now stands at 9.8 percentage points on the national level, according to the average of voter surveys calculated by the FiveThirtyEight Web site.
The president – who has gone back to work in the West Wing of the White House and claims that he has recovered or been cured of Covid-19 despite the fact that only a week has passed since his original diagnosis – on Thursday on his Twitter account posted a new video recorded on Wednesday outside the White House.
In the video, Trump addresses Americans over age 65, calling them his “favorite people” and among whom recent surveys indicate he has lost significant support, with Biden ahead of him by 27 points in that cohort of voters, according to a survey performed last Sunday by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal.
“We have medicines right now, and I call them a cure,” the 74-year-old president said, adding “I was very sick. … And I took this medicine, and it was incredible.”
“I could have walked out the next day. … Sooner. … We’re going to make them available,” he promised, saying that his administration would make them available to patients “immediately.”
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals prepared an experimental antibody cocktail that was administered to Trump, and he was also given Remdesivir and dexamethasone at Walter Reed military hospital, where he was taken on an urgent basis last Friday after being diagnosed with Covid-19 at the White House.