The second presidential debate: Will they or won't they?
Two weeks before the second presidential debate, President Trump was diagnosed with the Wuhan virus, although he recovered swiftly. Then, the day after Mike Pence soundly beat Kamala Harris at their debate, the presidential debate commission announced that the debate set for October 15 would be "virtual," with the candidates and the moderator in different places. Since then, Trump refused to appear, the campaigns agreed to a new date, Trump's doctor declared him cured, and the commission refused to back down. It's currently unclear how or when the debate will get resolved.
When President Trump was initially diagnosed with the Wuhan virus, the assumption was that he would be extremely ill and out of commission for some time, possibly even until after the election. Everyone assumed that the second presidential debate, set for October 15, would be canceled. Instead, Trump bravely accepted an experimental antibody treatment (Regeneron) and zoomed back to health.
On Wednesday, the vice presidential debate took place. Barring the few true believers in the drive-by media, the consensus was that Pence routed Harris.
Perhaps it was a coincidence, but at 7:30 in the morning the day after Harris's dismal performance, the debate commission unilaterally announced that the second debate would go forward on October 15, but as a virtual debate:
Of course, a virtual debate increases the possibility that Biden can be attached to his beloved teleprompter, have an earpiece, or have someone pass him notes or assist him in other ways.
President Trump immediately rejected the virtual debate, which he contended was a waste of time. He also homed in on a genuine threat to him, which is that those running the debate can "cut you off whenever they want." Trump contended that the commission's last-minute, unilateral change of plans was because "they're trying to protect Biden."
Trump wasn't the only one who was unhappy with the decision. Joe Lieberman slammed the commission as "autocratic":
The former Connecticut senator praised for being a moderate said it was "surprising" the debate commission announced the second presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden would be virtual instead of in Miami before consulting with the campaigns.
"It's generally unacceptable," Lieberman, who debated former Vice President Dick Cheney in 2000, said on the "Brian Kilmeade Show."
With his usual ability to take a hit, roll, and land on his feet ready to fight again, Trump announced that, instead of a pointless debate, he would instead hold a rally:
Bill Stepien, Trump's campaign manager, said Trump "will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate" so there is no reason to hold it virtually.
"President Trump won the first debate despite a terrible and biased moderator in Chris Wallace, and everybody knows it. 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," Stepien said. "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."
Things changed again when Biden's campaign, which had initially toed the commission's line, agreed that the debate would be delayed a week, until October 22, and then proceed as initially planned. That plan didn't last, either.
Later on Thursday, President Trump's physician issued an all-clear, saying Trump is symptom-free and can return to his regular engagements on Saturday. With that announcement, the Trump campaign announced that the president is ready to go forward on October 15 as planned:
UPDATE: Based on Dr. Conley's letter, the Trump campaign is pushing for the 2nd presidential debate originally scheduled for October 15 in Miami to move forward AS PLANNED https://t.co/TEnAyjq9KZ pic.twitter.com/n4vCuiECyb— Sara Cook (@saraecook) October 9, 2020
Despite both the agreement between the two camps and Trump's subsequent announcement that he was prepared to debate as originally planned on October 15, it appears that the commission is refusing to budge on its revised plan. In the autocratic style Joe Lieberman decried, the commission has declared that it will be a virtual debate:
The chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates says despite a request from President Trump's team, it's not reconsidering shifting the second debate from virtual back to face-to-face. https://t.co/7Lj5toTHzL— The Associated Press (@AP) October 9, 2020
By the time you read this, I fully expect that everything I wrote will be obsolete. This is what we can expect in 2020, when the institutions that have held power for so long continue to support a sclerotic old man for their own benefit rather than presiding over an impartial campaign for America's benefit.
Image: First presidential debate. YouTube screen grab.