Trump, apparently — who, to be fair, is often not particularly right-minded.
The President calls into Fox News because, unlike more legitimate and nonpartisan news outlets, they will let him rant and lie. A real exchange of ideas, and being checked on his falsehoods, is ultimately what Trump is afraid of. Without any real plans for combating the coronavirus, keeping Americans insured and able to access healthcare, or righting the economy — without the ability to coherently articulate any policy proposals at all — a virtual debate eliminates Trump’s advantages and exposes his considerable weaknesses. It also keeps the audience, the moderator, and the candidates safe.
A virtual debate would make it much more difficult for Trump to pull his usual attention-grabbing stunts and to evade having to actually speak to policy questions. Presumably, someone in the control room would have the ability to mute the candidates’ microphones. Split-screen framing would likely require both candidates to sit down, which would impede whole-body gesticulating and lurching. The President’s attempts at intimidation would pack far less punch, and watching him try to bully an opponent through a screen would make it far easier to see his juvenile antics for what they are.
While a virtual debate would be less optimal for Trump, it would be of far greater benefit to viewers. We would have an opportunity to actually hear each candidate articulate their vision for our country without being interrupted or bulldozed. It could be a real debate, not a contest of who can yell the loudest and talk over the other most effectively. If that puts Trump at a disadvantage because he is unable to debate ideas, well, the American people deserve to know that. And if the President truly does refuse to participate in the debate, then let Joe Biden show up alone and answer audience questions.
An in-person debate is a public health risk, full stop. At the first presidential debate, the President’s family flouted public health rules by removing their masks as soon as they entered the room. Just days later, the President and the first lady tested positive for Covid-19.
The next debate is supposed to be a Town Hall, where voters ask questions. Are we really asking American citizens to show up, in person, to an event in an enclosed space with a man who has already demonstrated he does not do nearly enough to protect himself and his staff from infection?
All over the country, Americans have made big sacrifices to adjust to our new normal. We have held weddings, baby showers and funerals online. We have sent our children to remote school. We have attended work meetings, job interviews and exercise classes via Zoom. No, it’s not ideal. But a great many of us have radically adjusted our personal and professional lives to keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe from a highly contagious disease.
The men who want to sit in the Oval Office can do the same.