Joe Biden, Donald Trump, 2020 Debate
President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden met in Cleveland on September 29, 2020, for the first of three presidential debates. Photo credit: C-SPAN / YouTube

Donald Trump always brags that he wants to debate Joe Biden anytime, anywhere. However, now that Biden has indicated he is fine with that, the former president’s campaign is throwing up roadblocks.

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Donald Trump has boasted that he would debate President Joe Biden anytime and anywhere. Apparently, that statement has to come with a qualifier: only on his terms, and not whenever the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has scheduled debates.

The former president’s campaign has lamented that the first debate would “only” be held on September 16, claiming that “millions of Americans will already have voted then.”

Not surprisingly, that is complete nonsense, as the CPD pointed out on Wednesday in its response to the criticism.

The commission noted that the first debate, scheduled to be held on September 16, would be “the earliest televised general election debate ever held.”

The CPD said it chose the date “after a comprehensive study of early voting rules in every state,” and that only voters in North Carolina would even have the opportunity to cast a ballot by then (beginning on September 6). 

However, it seems unlikely that “millions” of them would have requested an absentee ballot by September 16, filled it out, and returned it back to a board of election. 

In theory, voters in Pennsylvania could also cast their ballots. Here, the day of the first debate is the first one where they can receive and complete a ballot. 

Still, we are talking about a few thousand votes being cast in total in these two states. Of course, neither Trump nor his campaign can ever be accused of letting facts ruin a nonsensical narrative to feed to supporters.

What seems more likely is that the former president’s claim of being willing to debate Biden is worth as much as his statements that he would be willing to testify under oath at one of his criminal trials. 

In other words, don’t hold your breath.

Another reason why the debates cannot be held earlier, according to the CPD, is that federal law stipulates that not only the candidates of the major parties are invited to participate but also anybody else who appears on a sufficient number of ballots that, theoretically, would allow them to win the Electoral College. 

And, since three states do not close their ballots for independent candidates until September 6, it might be impossible to hold a debate before then that includes all eligible candidates.

Of course, it is quite possible that the Trump campaign is looking for an out now that Biden has indicated that he would be willing to debate the former president. This week, Biden told radio host Howard Stern that he would be open to debating his opponent.

Trump could not be blamed if he were reluctant to cross (s)words with the president. 

Polling shows that Hillary Clinton soundly beat him in all three debates in 2016 and that he also lost all debates against Biden in 2020. 

The reason why seems clear: While Trump’s rambling and combative style plays well with his supporters at campaign rallies, it is much less effective in a debate setting.

All of that being said, it seems unlikely that any debate at any stage will make much of a difference in swinging votes because the country is simply too polarized.

Therefore, even if the candidates do agree on dates, the debates will largely only be a spectacle for the media. 

And that’s a big if since both campaigns probably don’t want to rush two elderly men in front of cameras, where their performances could easily do more harm than good. 


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