The Chilling Truth about Trump’s Debate Dropout

  • + Trump’s made the chilly decision to not attend the second presidential debate.
  • + This was met by backlash from both sides of the aisle and the Debate Commission. 
  • + This move, and Biden’s growing polls, show Trump fighting a losing battle.
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Why Is Trump’s Heat Level Chilly 

Answer: By refusing to participate in a virtual debate, Trump forced the Commission to cancel the debate and affected his own campaign.

This Friday Oct. 9th, President Trump declared he was not going to “waste [his] time” on a virtual presidential debate head-to-head with former Vice President Biden, calling it “ridiculous”. (edit mine) Following the president’s bout of Covid-19 (which is frankly seen as a victory by his followers), the Commission on Presidential Debates transferred the second debate to a virtual format as a safety measure. 

This choice was influenced primarily by not wanting to expose any more people (considering the 8 White House staffers who have also been infected) to the coronavirus. In order to not jump back and forth with the decision to change the debate waiting for Trump’s negative tests, they decided unilaterally that it would be more efficient to make the debate virtual once and for all. Neither candidate’s campaign staff was consulted, and both agree this is not ideal, but ultimately Biden’s team agreed that a virtual format would be safest. 

Granted, this would not be the first time a presidential debate had to be held virtually. In 1960, President Nixon and then-candidate John F. Kennedy debated from New York City and Los Angeles respectively in a televised debate.

Trump accused the change of being partial to the Democratic candidate. He instead insisted that the debates be postponed. This move frustrated his already declining popularity due to his lack of leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. The president was in a position since March where voters were losing confidence in his trustworthiness as a leader—not showing up for all voters, not just those who go to his rallies, puts a cold damper on his campaign, popularity, and likelihood of winning this election. And now we get to watch, in real-time, a presidential incumbent scrambling to salvage what is left of his campaign.

Who is changing Trump’s temperature? 

Answer: His refusal to attend the second debate virtually only sets him further back in the presidential race.

Donald Trump faces criticism from both sides of the aisle for refusing to participate in a debate when polls show him trailing 10 points behind Biden–even though Republicans found a virtual debate unfavorable in the first place. What’s more is that the upcoming debate was a town tall, which would have given him direct contact with voters who want to know more about his policies and/or plans for a second term. Needless to say, this was an unmissable opportunity for the president. Instead, his campaign staff reported, he would hold a rally, while Biden participates in a nationally televised town hall by himself (hosted by American TV sweetheart George Stephanopolous). 

Let’s be honest: in the United States it is incredibly easy to win reelection. Only 12 out of the 45 presidents have ever lost the incumbent seat. But Donald Trump’s latest moves are encountering backlash from senior Republicans—his most loyal subjects—who are increasingly anxious about the president’s decline in the polls and the hearts of the (non-white-and-evangelical) American people. President Trump’s catastrophically confusing handling of the coronavirus pandemic was already setting him back in the race; his contraction of the virus was retribution sweetly served into the hands of the Biden-Harris ticket. 

At a time that he could have used to his advantage, following his recovery, and returned to the debate “screen” better than ever, his decision looks instead like a mistake he cannot afford. 

What is driving Trump? 

Answer: A desire to challenge the establishment.

Trump long established his “no fear” approach to coronavirus. It is not all that surprising that he would cite that a virtual debate is unnecessary once he got his negative tests – even when other advisors thought that this would be the safest route considering that many of his staff and close peers were also infected. He further argued that if his doctors cleared him for public events, there should be no hinders (which Biden agreed with). 

Additionally, he is convinced that both the media channels and the Commission for Presidential Debates are bent against his winning the election – or even gaining ground during his campaign. His staff stated that the virtual debate was “a sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden”. After all, a key aspect of the president’s populist rhetoric is accusing any political institutions of working against him, and in turn, his movement to make America great again. 

We have yet to see, however, whether this retraction of the debate will be a complete failure. In 1980, when Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter pulled out of the first presidential debate, the move only helped to bolster his popularity and ratings once the second debate came around. Donald Trump did something similar in 2016, and it worked. The 2016 elections, however, showed the then-candidate ahead in polls across the country, and the strategy worked in his favor. His team is afraid it may do the opposite this time around.

For a president who is so sceptical of the political establishments, and who so often undermines the democratic processes of the United States, it is not all that surprising that he should choose to ‘stick to his guns’ and refuse to participate in a debate if it is done in any way that he may disapprove of.

What does this mean for you? 

Answer: Biden v. Trump may determine the United States’ foreign policy for decades to come

The international reputation of the United States hangs on the balance of this election. As outworldly as that statement sounds, President Trump made it a point these past four years to revert America to its previous isolationist stance in global governance. Many of the international institutions that the United States fought to build during the last 70 years were disavowed, and many times defunded, by Donald Trump. He makes constant remarks of their inefficiency, and has withdrawn from at least 5 multilateral agreements, as well as threatened to withdraw from important international organizations like the World Trade Organization. What’s more, the president’s closeness to Putin gives pause to many American representatives, who still perceive Russia as an enemy in the international system. 

Biden has promised to restore the United States as a leader of the free world, similar to the diplomatic reverence that they experienced under the Obama administration. Additionally he stands for global cooperation that may further bolster international free trade, as well as re-entering the Paris Climate Accord. He has defended the neoliberal institutions of the international system, and is committed to making the United States an active participant of these.

Whether we like it or not, it is important, still, who sits as commander-in-chief in the United States, and the effect that their foreign policy has on the rest of the world economy cannot be neglected. Trump’s strategies to advance his campaign are key to what the next four years may look like for the rest of the world.  

Francia Morales

Research and Analysis Intern