The second presidential debate of this election season was meant to take place Wednesday night, and it promised to be a spirited, Lincoln-Douglas–esque exchange of ideas along the lines of the first event, during which President Trump talked over Joe Biden for most of the 90-minute running time and Biden told him to shut up. Instead, thanks to the president’s possibly still-infectious status, the two candidates will hold town halls on different networks at the same time.
Trump’s forum, to be held in Miami, will air on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC — thus likely delivering him a ratings win — while ABC will carry Biden’s from Philadelphia. (Why the network didn’t insist The events will go some of the way toward replicating the second debate, which, as is traditional, was supposed to feature a town-hall format. In a twist, the Trump town hall will take place outdoors, with moderator Savannah Guthrie sitting 12 feet from the president and audience remembers required to wear face masks.
Days after the first debate, President Trump tested positive for COVID-19, throwing planning for the next event into disarray. Since then, the Trump administration has consistently released positive information about the president’s health — the president’s personal doctor said on Saturday that he was “no longer a transmission risk to others” — while holding back other key information, like when the president last tested negative, thus making it unclear whether he still poses a health risk to Biden. But NBC seemed satisfied with evaluations from experts who are not on the president’s personal team, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, that Trump is not currently a virus vector.
In light of the president’s positive test, the Commission on Presidential Debates had previously suggested that Biden and Trump debate from two separate locations. But the president refused to take part in a virtual event (though John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon did just that with no problem all the way back in 1960), and the Biden campaign, comfortably ahead in the polls, was in no mood to satisfy its opponent’s demands for an in-person matchup. Last week, the committee officially scuttled the debate. The final one-on-one is still scheduled to take place on October 22.