U.S. President Donald Trump participates in the first presidential debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at the Health Education Campus of Case Western Reserve University on September 29, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. Win McNamee/Getty Images
President Donald Trump announced in a video this week that people shouldn’t let the coronavirus “dominate” them and that they shouldn’t be afraid of the virus. But when it came to having a virtual debate, he refused.
According to the president, the virtual format wouldn’t allow him to dominate the discussion. “They cut you off whenever they want,” he said during a Fox Business interview on Thursday.
The president refused to follow the debate rules in the first debate and instead talked over former Vice President Joe Biden so he couldn’t be heard. The Presidential Debate Commission said that if Trump was incapable of complying with the rules, they would cut his microphone in the next debate.
Bailing out of the debate is a huge mistake, according to former Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele. During an MSNBC panel discussion Thursday, Steele explained that this is “typical Trump.”
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“You know, it’s a format that doesn’t allow him to do what he likes doing best,” he explained. “They cut him off and he doesn’t want to be cut off. The idea they’re trying to protect Biden, dude, they’re trying to protect themselves from you. You’re infected with COVID-19 and you’re not cured. Stop it. I mean, it’s just one of these things that is so frustrating for the larger public consumption, because it creates this false impression that somehow this man got COVID-19 on Wednesday and was cured of it by Monday, and you know, I’m back to business as usual. When everyone knows that’s not the narrative.”
He went on to explain that the large public events that Trump likes to hold should have precautions, but Trump continues to disregard the safety of his own voters.
“So, this is not going to go well with the American voters right now,” Steele went on. “They are just tired of watching this opportunity to protect themselves, get turned on its head because the president is self-indulgent.”
Host Hallie Jackson explained that no matter what Trump does, his rallies don’t get the kind of viewership that the debates do. Even a low-ratings debate still gets millions of more viewers than a typical Trump super-spreader rally.
“I think it is a mistake for him to do this,” said Steele. “It’s not just about where the polls are right at this moment. It’s also about how you keep your base engaged, how you keep voters looking and listening at your campaign and what you’re doing. So, there is a method to that particular kind of madness, and we like to push off these debates as no one is really watching, they fall off after the second debate, et cetera, but you’re right, Hallie, there may be a falloff after the first debate but it’s still millions of people that you otherwise would not be able to touch.”
He noted that there are still a small selection of voters who are trying to make up their minds and that these debates continue the discussion for them on the issues.
“So, it does matter, having these debates at this particular time, for his campaign,” Steele continued. “Joe Biden is flexible. Can he afford to be flexible, because the numbers are good for him? If you’re Trump, you want to engage and it’s unfortunate that he doesn’t seem to get that part of it because he’s much more self-consumed with how he’s going to be able to control and dominate the conversation and this medium that they’re suggesting, you know, a virtual debate doesn’t allow him to do that. And voters take away from that too, and so suddenly the narrative becomes, ‘well you’re not really interested in talking to us anymore because you can’t show yourself off instead of telling us why you need a second term.'”
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