Those following the arguments around how and when the next US presidential debate will take place were subjected to further whiplash on Friday, when news broke that organisers had decided to cancel the upcoming head-to-head altogether.
“It is now apparent there will be no debate on October 15,” the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) said in a statement: “The CPD will turn its attention to preparations for the final presidential debate scheduled for October 22.”
The decision to cancel the Miami debate was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and later confirmed by CNN.
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It came after US President Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, announced he would not take part in the event following the commission’s earlier decision to move the event online amid coronavirus fears.
Trump – whose strategy in the first debate revolved around repeated interruption of his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden – said he would not take part in a virtual debate because it would give the moderator the power to “mute” him. He said the format change was “ridiculous” and it would be a waste of his time to take part.
Organisers had hoped that next Thursday’s debate, which was to be a town hall-style event, would offer the chance for a considerably less chaotic and combative affair compared to the first debate.
But even before its official cancellation, any hopes of it going ahead as planned were effectively dead in the water by Thursday, when the Biden camp said it would go ahead with its own town hall event in place of the debate Trump was boycotting.
“It’s shameful that Donald Trump ducked the only debate in which the voters get to ask the questions – but it’s no surprise,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said.
The Biden camp called on the commission to replace the final debate, scheduled for October 22 in Nashville, Tennessee, with the town hall event, “so that the President is not able to evade accountability”.
“The voters should have a chance to ask questions of both candidates, directly,” campaign spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said on Thursday.
Responding to news of the cancellation, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said that the Trump campaign would happily take part in a head-to-head with Biden without the commission’s involvement.
“There’s nothing that says that President Trump and Joe Biden can’t debate together without the overlords at the commission having a say in the matter,” he said in a statement.
The spat over debate arrangements comes as Trump continues to recover from the coronavirus, for which he tested positive last Thursday.
Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that those infected should remain isolated for at least 10 days, Trump is pressing ahead with in-person campaign events, having been cleared by his personal physician to “return to public engagements”.
On Saturday, the president will address up to 2,000 supporters on the South Lawn of the White House on a “law and order” theme, according to reports. The plans have prompted concerns of a potential repeat of the Rose Garden gathering on September 26, which was suspected of being at the centre of a surge in cases within Trump’s inner circle.
Trump is also planning to fly to Florida on Monday for what he called a “very big rally”.
The president said in an interview on Fox News on Friday night that he had stopped taking coronavirus medication. “Right now I’m medication free. I’m not taking any medications as of, you know, probably eight hours ago,” Trump said in the interview.
Biden criticised Trump’s decision to continue campaigning. “His reckless personal conduct since his diagnosis, the destabilising effect it’s having on our government, is unconscionable,” Biden said at a drive-in style event in Las Vegas.
“He didn’t take the necessary precautions to protect himself or others … How can we trust him to protect this country?”
Despite mounting evidence that his insistence on holding large-scale and in-person events has endangered both himself and other attendees, Trump and his allies continue to portray Biden’s decision to refrain from doing so as a sign of weakness and lack of political support.
As of Thursday, Biden led Trump by 10 points nationally, according to an average of recent polls collated by The New York Times. Pollsters have predicted that Trump, who is trailing in numerous swing states, will struggle to make up lost ground if he continues to shun the debates.
As well as his protest over the format of the debates, Trump and his base have claimed that both the Commission on Presidential Debates and moderators are biased against the Republican Party.
“Steve Scully, the second Debate Moderator, is a Never Trumper, just like the son of the great Mike Wallace,” tweeted Trump on Friday, referring, respectively, to the would-be host of next week’s town hall and Chris Wallace, the Fox News anchor who oversaw the first head-to-head. “Fix!!!”
Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse
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This article Second US presidential debate between Trump and Biden officially cancelled first appeared on South China Morning Post