Trump’s Objection to Virtual Plan Puts Next Debate in Jeopardy

Trump’s Objection to Virtual Plan Puts Next Debate in Jeopardy

Trump’s Objection to Virtual Plan Puts Next Debate in Jeopardy

Trump’s Objection to Virtual Plan Puts Next Debate in Jeopardy

The commission was already under pressure to reform its safety protocols after last week’s debate in Cleveland, where Mr. Trump’s family members and aides declined to wear masks in the debate hall, flouting regulations set by the organizers. Mr. Biden’s aides had also expressed concern about their candidate’s potential exposure to a president who could still be infectious.

Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, issued a blistering attack on Thursday against the debate commission, calling its members “swamp monsters” and describing the move to a virtual debate as “pathetic.”

“The safety of all involved can easily be achieved without canceling a chance for voters to see both candidates go head-to-head,” Mr. Stepien said in a statement. “We’ll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead.” He also claimed that Mr. Trump “will have posted multiple negative tests prior to the debate,” although White House officials have repeatedly declined to give details about Mr. Trump’s current health status. The president has not yet tested negative for the virus.

Mr. Trump, in the Fox Business interview, said he learned of the change to a virtual format on Thursday. But there were indications that people in the president’s circle were aware on Wednesday of the debate commission’s thinking about a virtual debate.

The president also sought repeatedly to undermine the integrity of the debate commission. He accused the scheduled moderator of the next debate, Steve Scully of C-SPAN, of being a “never Trumper,” without offering evidence for his claim. He said the moderator of the first debate, Chris Wallace of Fox News, “was a disaster” who favored Mr. Biden. And he said the commission’s plan for a remote matchup was about “trying to protect Biden.”

In fact, a presidential debate with candidates in different locations is not unprecedented.

In 1960, the third debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon was held remotely. Kennedy debated from a television studio in New York; Nixon appeared from Los Angeles, with the men filmed on a pair of identical sets. The moderator of that debate, Bill Shadel of ABC News, conducted the proceedings from a third studio in Chicago.

How to safely stage a pair of indoor, in-person debates between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, who tested positive for the coronavirus last week and spent three days at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, has been the subject of intense conversations among board members of the debate commission in recent days.


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