When Donald Trump was hospitalized late last week after contracting the coronavirus, it was difficult to imagine the president joining Joe Biden on a debate stage 13 days later. The Republican nevertheless indicated this week that he intended to participate in the scheduled town-hall event in Miami.
The problem, of course, is that Trump was not only infected with a virus that's killed more than 210,000 Americans, his attendance at a town-hall debate ran the risk of making others sick. With this painfully obvious dynamic in mind, the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates made a sensible announcement this morning.
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced Thursday that the second presidential debate, set for next week, will now take place virtually as President Donald Trump battles Covid-19. The debate will still take place in the form of a town hall, but Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, will participate remotely. Moderator Steve Scully of C-SPAN will be located at the venue that was slated to host the debate, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.
Though the Biden campaign quickly accepted the terms, this format was likely to do very little for the former vice president. After all, the Delaware Democrat excels at making personal connections, and speaking virtually to an audience makes that vastly more difficult.
It was the incumbent, however, who announced plans to boycott the debate.
In an interview on the Fox Business Network on Thursday morning, Trump said the new debate format is "not acceptable to us." ... "I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate," Trump said, adding that he doesn't like the idea of a virtual debate because a moderator could cut him off at any time.
Trump added that he considers a virtual format -- which has an American pedigree going back six decades -- to be "ridiculous."
The president's latest campaign manager, Bill Stepien, soon after issued a written statement that whined for several sentences before concluding, "We'll pass on this sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden and do a rally instead."
So, what happens now? If Team Trump is telling the truth about its intentions, there apparently won't be a debate next week. That said, there are a variety of questions that don't yet have answers:
Was this some kind of opening bid? Does the president's political operation expect to now begin negotiations over the terms of the Miami debate?
Will the Commission on Presidential Debates hold next week's event anyway, allowing Biden to compete against an empty chair? If so, would it prompt Trump to change his mind?
And what about the third presidential debate, currently scheduled for Oct. 22 in Nashville?
There's no reason to believe the story is over just yet, though we're suddenly confronted with the possibility that last night's vice presidential debate was the last debate of the 2020 race.
Update: In a follow-up statement, Trump's campaign manager eventually said he and his team want to see the town-hall debate delayed by one week, and then move the Oct. 22 debate to Oct. 29. Team Biden responded soon after, "Trump's erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar, and pick new dates of his choosing."