A presidential debate has been canceled for the first time in modern history after President Trump refused to accept a new, virtual format in the wake of new safety concerns about COVID-19.
The Committee on Presidential Debates said in a statement Friday night that it was canceling the second 2020 debate scheduled for Wednesday, October 15, in Miami. The cancellation was the culmination of a whipsaw week following Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis last Friday. Trump and Joe Biden debated that Tuesday, and by Thursday, the president tested positive for the virus. Following Trump’s discharge from the hospital on Monday, the committee proposed that the second debate’s in-person town hall be made virtual in order to protect everyone involved from the highly contagious virus. Trump would not have that.
“I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That’s not what debating is all about,” he told Fox Business on Wednesday. “You sit behind a computer and do a debate — it’s ridiculous, and then they cut you off whenever they want.” (Trump might have feared being muted on the equivalent of Zoom after the committee said it was considering letting moderators cut the mics of candidates who interrupt as Trump did to Biden for almost 90 minutes straight.)
After Trump balked, his campaign and Biden’s agreed to push the second debate back to October 22. They couldn’t agree on what to do with the third debate, though: Trump’s team proposed moving it further back, while Biden said it should be canceled. As of Friday, the final debate is still scheduled for October 22.
It’s an unprecedented development for the American tradition which has become a fixture of picking a president. The first modern presidential debate was in 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, who squared off three times — the final time from separate television studios on each coast. The next time White House candidates debated was in 1976, when Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter sparred, starting the quadrennial tradition that has persisted ever since.