US election 2020: Disagreement over when the next debate should be suits Trump just fine – for several reasons
The contenders are at odds over dates and formats for their second debate and that may be a timely win for the president.
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It might just be the excuse he needs.
A second debate that was already promising to rein in the excesses of a petulant president is never going to suit him.
Discussion of increased controls, clamping down on interruptions and cutting mics was already shaping a format to squeeze his rumbustious style.
A considered sitdown conversation would suit Joe Biden better than a president who riffs on the generalities of power and promises, but is vulnerable when penetrated on the detail.
And there are questions that get lost in heated debate that hang heavier in controlled debate. Mr Biden’s first might be: “Mr President, when did you last test negative [for coronavirus]?”
Donald Trump is more music hall than modern age and the public stage works best for him.
The comedy schtick that stirs a Trump rally carries him through a performance in a way that considered detail doesn’t.
It doesn’t chime with everyone but it works for the Trump base and it works inside his head.
So does the situation as it stands – stalled.
Framing this as the insurgent versus the establishment would reheat a theme that delivered for him in 2016.
The politics of the political debate have duly unfolded from the president’s initial announcement.
Joe Biden pencilled in his own, alternative event for 15 October – a Q&A with members of the public. It would have the effect, to some degree, of empty-chairing Mr Trump.
Team Trump responded by suggesting the debate schedule was pushed back a week, to 22 October and 29 October, which would move the schedule to within four days of the election.
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TV debates have been shown to have little effect on voting intentions but, to maximise any influence, the preferred date of a trailing candidate would be the eve of a poll.
And Donald Trump has been consistently behind in the polls.
US election 2020: How does polling work and who is ahead?
The suggestion of a shift in dates was promptly dismissed by the Biden campaign.
It is a game of bluff that locks candidates and campaigns into a dispute over election infrastructure.
And, not for the first time, a voting public looks in on the politics of process rather than choice.