Debate commission co-chair defends virtual move after Trump pulls out: ‘We will be guided by the medicine’
Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf has defended the organization’s decision to move the second presidential debate, slated for Oct. 15, to a virtual setting after President Trump dismissed the idea as a “waste” of time.
“We looked at this thing very, very carefully, and as I have said many times in this particular cycle, we will be guided by the medicine,” Fahrenkopf said Thursday on “The Story.“
“We will be guided by those people advising us, we are not doctors. And as you know, the Cleveland Clinic has been advising us throughout. They went along with this decision.
The CPD announced early Thursday that “the second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which the candidates would participate from separate remote locations.” Steve Scully of C-SPAN is still set to moderate from Miami.
Fahrenkopf told host Martha MacCallum there were “just too many questions as to whether or not we could present this with many, many people who would be present in Miami who would be vulnerable.”
The format change was announced six days after the president announced he and first lady Melania Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus. The positive test came a little more than 48 hours after the first debate between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
The CPD decision was driven “not only [by] his [Trump’s] diagnosis and what happened in Cleveland but what’s happened in the White House in the last week or so [with] so many people having to be tested and quarantined,” Fahrenkopf explained.
“We have 65 people who work and build these sets and so forth and in a town hall meeting we have people there. We want to make sure that everyone is safe and we will … not take a chance. That’s why we decided if we were going to have this, we had to do it virtually to make sure everyone was safe.”
Trump told Fox Business Netowrk’s Maria Bartiromo earlier Thursday that he will not “waste my time” in a virtual debate, and called the idea of sitting “at a computer” to debate his 2020 challenger “ridiculous.”
Fahrenkopf told MacCallum, however, that the president may have misunderstood the conditions of the updated virtual setting.
“The president said, ‘You don’t want that kind of debate where you’re sitting in front of a computer.’ You’re not,” he explained. “The provisions were they would sit wherever they wanted to – the president could do it from the Oval Office. There would be press people present, also with Biden, people there to make sure he wasn’t reading off a teleprompter.
“I think the president wasn’t properly briefed as to what we’re talking about when we’re talking about a virtual debate,” he said.
When asked whether a new statement from White House physician Dr. Sean Conley, which suggests that Trump would be able to resume public engagements as soon as this weekend, could impact the commission’s decision, Fahrenkopf said plainly, “certainly he knows where the Cleveland Clinic is [and] his doctor can work with those doctors. When we get that certification, then we can go forward.”
Until then, Fahrenkopf explained, “we can’t do it without that.”