Let’s have a contest.
The first 2020 Presidential debate will take place on Tuesday, September 29, in Cleveland, moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News. Quadrennially, these debates attract a lot of attention—the first Clinton-Trump debate in 2016 drew 84 million viewers—but this year, an important and unusual question looms over the debate season: will Donald Trump show up?
The President’s penchant for the dramatic and his oft-stated desire to keep opponents guessing make this more than an idle question. He skipped a party-sanctioned debate—hosted by Fox News, no less—during the 2016 Republican primary race, only to then dominate media coverage with his (allegedly) veterans-centered alternate event.
He has already given signals about not wanting to participate in debates during this election cycle. When the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced its choice of moderators, the President was unhappy. None of his ideas had been selected (the strictly nonpartisan CPD never chooses an individual candidate’s suggestion). A spokesman for the Trump campaign, Tim Murtaugh, said to Huffington Post about the moderators, “Some can be identified as clear opponents of President Trump, meaning Joe Biden will actually have a teammate on stage most of the time to help him excuse the radical, leftist agenda he is carrying.” As we have seen in other instances, this is a signal to declare that the debates are “rigged” against him, further leaving one to wonder if he will fail to show.
Since Donald Trump is known to be unpredictable, he could at any time simply decline to participate. In an example of his mercurial nature, Fox News first reported that the President would spend time prepping for the debate, only to have the President change course a few days later by claiming that he will not prepare. The New York Post reported that President Trump has no plans to formally train for his first debate, “telling aides that he’s banking on the former veep being felled by his own blanking and gaffes…Trump has joked to allies that he has been preparing for the debates his entire life, and at one point argued that his ability to hit opponents in his trademark pugilistic style ‘isn’t something you have to practice.’”
The question of whether or not Donald Trump will actually show up for the debates seems wildly out of place until one considers how established norms and conventions have been ignored or eclipsed throughout his entire tenure at the White House. Further, as standard wisdom dictates, it is in his best interest to participate: he is the incumbent and thereby should have “home field advantage”; the debates have a huge audience; polls have him losing in key battleground states and the debates provide the best opportunity to make up ground, especially among those beyond his base who will be watching. By participating, he has much more to gain than to lose.
But, as we know, Donald Trump is not one to rely on conventional wisdom and instead banks on his political instincts, his flare for the dramatic and his ability to keep his opponents off-balance. The question about whether or not Donald Trump will show up for the first debate is not so much a political question, as it is a question about his disposition as the debate date gets closer. Will he throw convention to the wind and refuse to go toe-to-toe with Joe Biden? Or will his self-confidence propel him to stand on the debate stage, convinced that Biden is an easy mark?
What do you think, dear reader? Let’s have that contest.
Will Donald Trump show up to debate Joe Biden? Or will something—real or imagined—somehow get in the way of this face-to-face confrontation? It’s now your turn to weigh in: will Trump debate? Yes or no? And why? It will be fascinating to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. It’s a binary choice and in less than three weeks, we’ll know who wins.