Opinion: President Trump would be wise to agree to the virtual debate

by Peter Heck · Oct 8th, 2020 3:18 pm

Last Updated Oct 10th, 2020 at 10:50 am

The president needs to reconsider.

If you haven't heard, the Commission on Presidential Debates changed the format for the second presidential debate. It would be a townhall with the moderator and questioners in one place, and the candidates in separate locations. Trump wasted no time in giving his response:

For a multitude of reasons, I think this is a bad decision for the Trump campaign.

First, and most important, Trump's first debate performance was a gift to Biden. Ignore the opinion commentator and watch these clips of Biden at the Democratic primary debates. It's an excellent summation of Biden's inability to expound upon ideas, define his policies, describe his plans.

In the first presidential debate, Trump continually saved Biden by interrupting him. Those Democratic primary debates showed over and over that the former vice president counts on that. When it doesn't happen, he ends up rambling and falling silent. He eventually waves his hands and says "anyway," before yielding back his time. In one particularly awkward moment, Biden didn't know what else to say, so he forced a joke about how he is the only one who "abides by the rules" and stays under his time limit. It was painful.

Trump's persistent interruptions and badgering in the first debate certainly left Biden dazed and confused, but it also saved him from himself. This new virtual debate format would expose Biden by preventing Trump's lack of self-restraint from rescuing him. Biden would have to speak on his own.

Finally, if Biden has any advantage over Trump in a debate format, it is the ability to connect personally with the questioner. Yes, Trump is great as an entertainer in front of an adoring, sympathetic crowd. But townhalls are not the same thing. It puts a candidate one-on-one with individuals, sometimes sympathetic and sometimes hostile. And if the conduct of recent media is any indication, Trump can count on hostile questions. That doesn't play well into his hands. For instance:

Meanwhile, that is Biden's strength. Even when he's lying through his teeth, he can make a personal connection, bolstered by spoon-fed questions:

This new virtual format deprives Biden of the ability to "work the crowd," and instead forces him to play to an empty room, explain himself, and articulate.

If anyone should be bailing from this new proposed format it should be the challenger. President Trump needs to reconsider.

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