The infectious President Donald Trump has announced that he has absolutely no intention of taking part in a virtual debate with Joe Biden, just minutes after the Commission on Presidential Debates confirmed the pre-election event would take place remotely to keep everyone safe.
In his first live interview since he was hospitalized for three days with COVID-19, Trump told the Fox Business Network Thursday morning: “I’m not going to do a virtual debate... I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate.” Then, in a dubious attempt to convince everyone that a debate would be safe, he added: “I don’t think I’m contagious.”
Just before Trump went live, the CPD announced the debate would be virtual “to protect the health and safety of all involved.” The statement said the town-hall-style event would take place on Oct. 15 as planned, but Biden and Trump will “participate from separate remote locations.”
After Trump told anchor Maria Bartiromo that he was backing out of the second debate, his campaign manager Bill Stepien, who was also recently confirmed to be infected by the coronavirus, followed it up with a statement confirming their position and saying they’d “do a rally instead.”
Biden’s campaign said the former vice president was willing to do a virtual debate but will instead hold a campaign event on Oct. 15 “to take questions from voters directly.”
“Donald Trump clearly does not want to face questions from the voters about his failures on COVID and the economy,” a campaign spokesperson said. “Given the President’s refusal to participate on October 15th, we hope the Debate Commission will move the Biden-Trump Town Hall to October 22nd, so that the President is not able to evade accountability.
“The voters should have a chance to ask questions of both candidates, directly. Every Presidential candidate since 1992 has participated in such an event, and it would be a shame if Donald Trump was the first to refuse.”
The campaign said Biden was happy to take part in a down-the-line debate, adding that he “looks forward” to another chance to go one-on-one with Trump.
The decision by Trump to bail is particularly ironic given that the president and his allies have spent weeks implying that it would be Biden—not Trump—who would physically wither at the thought of debating and back out of the event. It also comes as Trump simultaneously insists that he dominated Biden during the Tuesday night affair, despite countless public opinion polls showing the public felt the exact opposite.
During that debate, Trump spent 90 minutes intermittently interrupting and insulting Biden, arguing with moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News, and generally doing very little that resembled a presidential debate. The performance came despite his campaign’s commitment to a set of ground rules that allowed for candidates to speak, at points, for two uninterrupted minutes. In his FBN interview Thursday, Trump complained that, in a virtual debate, the moderators would be able to “cut you off.”
Even top Trump allies said they found the performance in debate one off-putting, and not just because of the continuous interruptions. Trump refused, once again, to denounce white supremacy and even provided the far-right militia group called the Proud Boys with a new slogan. Asked to denounce the organization, Trump merely instructed its members to “stand back and stand by.” At the event, the president’s family also went maskless, in defiance of Cleveland Clinic requirements for everyone in the audience during the raging pandemic.
Elsewhere in his Mornings With Maria interview Thursday morning, Trump repeatedly insisted that he was feeling great after being pumped full of experimental medicines for a week. “I think I am better... I would love to do a rally tonight,” he said. “I feel better than I did, you know, I jokingly said 20 years ago. I feel perfect. There is nothing wrong.”