Donald Trump's decision to walk away from the next presidential debate because it was set to be held virtually has thrown the future of all debates between the President and Democratic nominee Joe Biden into question, putting even more focus on how Trump's positive coronavirus diagnosis is altering his reelection bid.
After the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that the debate on October 15 would be held virtually due to coronavirus concerns, Trump told Fox Business that he was "not going to waste my time on a virtual debate."
"I am not going to do a virtual debate," said Trump.
The comments roiled an already contentious debate process and set off a back-and-forth between the Biden and Trump campaigns. Biden's spokeswoman swiftly said that they would have agreed to a virtual format for next Thursday's contest, but because the President had seemingly bailed, they urged the commission to make the debate scheduled on October 22 a town hall debate format.
Hours later, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said they would be willing to push the October 15 debate back a week and then move the third debate to October 29, just days before the November 3 election.
But Biden's campaign rejected their proposal, with campaign spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield saying in response, "Donald Trump doesn't make the debate schedule; the Debate Commission does."
"Trump's erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar, and pick new dates of his choosing. We look forward to participating in the final debate, scheduled for October 22, which already is tied for the latest debate date in 40 years. Donald Trump can show up, or he can decline again. That's his choice," Bedingfield said.
And then in another statement released Thursday night, Stepien pointed to a memo released by the White House physician that cleared Trump to resume public activity on Saturday and argued the debate must go forward as planned, in person, next Thursday.
"President Trump's physician, Dr. Sean Conley, says the President will be medically cleared for 'safe return to public engagements' by Saturday, five full days before the originally scheduled debate in Miami on October 15. There is therefore no medical reason why the Commission on Presidential Debates should shift the debate to a virtual setting, postpone it, or otherwise alter it in any way," Stepien said in a statement.
The memo from Conley said Trump has responded well to treatment and has completed his course of therapy. The memo did not say when Trump's last negative test took place.
The move by the commission to make the next scheduled debate virtual was seen as needed by members of the debate commission given the uncertainty around the President's health.
Politically, if Trump skips a debate, he'll be deprived of a platform that he needs at a time when his campaign is trailing in every national poll and in a number of key swing states. The first event was watched by more than 73 million people.