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Debate Commission’s Political Biases May Have Affected Decision to Host Virtual Debate

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Debate Commission’s Political Biases May Have Affected Decision to Host Virtual Debate

The Commission on Presidential Debate announced yesterday the next debate between Democratic candidate Joe Biden and President Trump will be virtual.

The commission’s plan calls for the candidates to participate in a town hall-style debate from separate remote locations. Under this plan, the candidates would field questions via teleconference from a moderator and audience located in Miami. A statement from the commission said the group made the decision “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate.”

The statement made no mention of President Trump’s recent bout with COVID-19. However, the timing of the announcement seems to indicate the president’s illness affected the decision.

Shortly after the debate commission’s announcement, President Trump said he doesn’t plan on attending the event. “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” Trump told Fox Business on Thursday. Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, called the decision to host the debate remotely “pathetic” and said the campaign would hold a rally instead.

However, later in the day, Stepien released a statement requesting to postpone the town hall debate by one week. He also asked for a third debate to be scheduled on October 29.

White House Physician, Dr. Sean Conley, issued a memo on Thursday night detailing the president’s medical condition, and he said Trump could be clear to hold in-person events as soon as Saturday. Conley’s prognosis supports the Trump campaign’s view that the next debate should be held in-person.

Finding a Resolution

If the negotiations don’t bring about an agreeable resolution, Trump says he will hit the road to rally supporters. “If we can have enough time to put it together, we want to do a rally probably in Florida on Saturday night, and might come back and do one in Pennsylvania the following night,” Trump said during a TV appearance Thursday evening.

Biden’s campaign initially agreed to attend a virtual debate but later made alternative arrangements once the president said he wouldn’t attend. The former vice president’s team now plans to host a town hall meeting in Philadelphia with George Stephanopoulos filling the role of moderator.

Despite the candidates’ backup plans, the debate commission’s co-chair, Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., says the group will move forward with preparations for the Miami debate. “We’re not going to stop that until we officially get word from both campaigns that they’re not going to do it,” Fahrenkopf said.

The debate commission is a bi-partisan, non-profit panel that schedules and plans presidential debates. The group includes representatives from both party’s, but many of the Republicans on the board have anti-Trump sentiments. In 2019, President Trump said the commission is “stacked with Trump Haters & Never Trumpers.”

Media Scrutiny

Several media outlets complained that Trump’s guests didn’t wear masks at the previous debate, despite the insistence of event security. The debate commission possibly made their decision to punish the campaign for not following their protocols. Whatever their reasons, the debate commission isn’t backing down so far.

“We looked at this thing very, very carefully, and as I have said many times in this particular cycle, we will be guided by the medicine,” Fahrenkopf said Thursday. “We will be guided by those people advising us, we are not doctors. And as you know, the Cleveland Clinic has been advising us throughout. They went along with this decision.”

Cleveland Clinic has donated more than $71,000 to the Biden campaign. This is more than three times what it contributed to Trump’s reelection campaign. In fact, more than 82% of the Cleveland Clinic’s political donations to federal candidates this year went to Democratic candidates. In total, the organization donated $196,474 to Democrats in 2020 while Republican candidates received only $42,166.

Republicans Speak Out

Two former Republican lawmakers sit on the debate committee, former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and former Sen. John Danforth (R-MO). In the past, Ms. Snowe has made derogatory comments about the president. In 2016, she said Trump’s campaign was hurting the Republican party. “This is absolutely hurting our brand. The question is how we unravel going forward,” said Snowe. “I fear the effects could be long-lasting. It’s tragic.”

The committee’s other Republican member, John Danforth, has written several scathing opinion pieces against the president for the notoriously anti-Trump Washington Post. ”The fundamental reason Trump isn’t a Republican is far bigger than words or policies. He stands in opposition to the founding principle of our party — that of a united country,” he wrote in an op-ed piece for the Post back in 2017.

Most of these organizations point to their neutrality as a reason for trust. However, a short investigation often produces contradictory information. The so-called Republican members of the Commission on Presidential Debate don’t support Trump’s presidency. Therefore, it’s hard to imagine they would defend Trump and the GOP’s best interests. The fact that the left-leaning Cleveland Clinic recommended the virtual debate hardly refutes the idea that the committee’s implicit bias against the president weighed heavily on the decision.

The second presidential debate will take place on October 15. C-SPAN’s Steve Scully will serve as moderator. The attendants will gather at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County in Miami, Florida.

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