New York, Oct 8: Coronavirus-stricken US President Donald Trump on Thursday pulled out of the debate with his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, objecting to a digital encounter where he could be cut off for interrupting his rival or speaking beyond the allotted time.
It could end up as a campaign bonanza for Biden if the debate goes ahead next Thursday and only he turns up for the event, answering questions from an audience made of citizens and not just the media people.
That would give him a free play and Trump would be seen as backing out of the debate.
Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien, who has himself tested positive for Covid-19, said that Trump will instead hold a rally.
That rally next Thursday could run against the debate if both events take place disrupting the electioneering discourse.
“It’s ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want,” Trump told a Fox News interviewer after the Commission for Presidential Debates announced that it will move next Thursday’s event to a virtual format.
Biden’s campaign official Kate Bedingfield, confirming his participation, said: “Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people and comparing his plan for bringing the country together and building back better.”
Stepien called the switch to the digital format a “sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden”.
Trump’s refusal to face Trump follows the debate between Vice President Mike Pence and his Democratic rival Kamala Harris on Wednesday night, where the two conducted themselves with relative courtesy in contrast to last month’s presidential debate marked by insults and Trump’s overbearing manner.
With her experience as a prosecutor, Harris had an advantage over the mild-mannered Pence.
Pence and Harris were separated by Plexiglass barriers and they were placed about four metres apart as a Covid-19 precaution.
Trump was released from a military hospital on Monday and is continuing his treatment at the White House, where about 20 staffers have tested positive for Covid-19, and next Thursday would be the 15th day since his diagnosis.
Having him face-to-face with Biden, even if they were separated by Plexiglass partition, would pose a serious health risk to 77-year-old Biden because Trump could be shedding the virus.
Trump’s aggressive style of debating by constantly interrupting and speaking over his rival and refusing to stop talking when told by the moderator would not work in a digital debate where he can be silenced by the moderator.
While his rambunctious manner may turn off many voters, it plays well with his base and he will not want to be seen by them as being cowed down by the moderator blurring his macho image.
A barrier to holding the debate in-person is that it is to be town hall format where selected citizens would be participating directly asking questions.
By opting out, Trump who has not campaigned directly since last Thursday because of his disease, will lose an opportunity to be on a nationally televised event.
His aides have said that he would address the nation, but it has not yet been scheduled.