Election 2020

Trump mounts campaign for more debates against Biden

Trump last year threatened to boycott the debates; now he wants more one-on-one encounters with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden


President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has tapped former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to spearhead a campaign to press for more debates this fall, starting earlier than usual and to have a say in choosing the moderators.

The changes sought by the Trump campaign amount to a major reversal. Trump last year threatened to boycott the debates; now he wants more one-on-one encounters with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, which advisers think will sow doubts about the former vice president’s stamina for the job.

Giuliani held a Thursday afternoon conference call with Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chairman of the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. During the call, Giuliani and Parscale pushed for the debates to begin before early voting starts. They also requested a fourth debate.
The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has scheduled three presidential debates: Sept. 29 at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Oct. 15 at the University of Michigan, and Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville. A vice presidential debate will be held Oct. 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

But the president wants at least one additional showdown. Trump has raised questions about Biden’s mental capacity and nicknamed him “Sleepy Joe” to hammer the former vice president. More debates, Trump advisers contend, mean more chances for Biden to embarrass himself.

With an eye toward maximizing viewership, the campaign also wants the debates to take place on weekday evenings other than Thursday so they don’t coincide with NFL games.

Giuliani, whom Parscale brought on to serve in an unpaid capacity, is making a return to the spotlight after playing a starring role in Trump’s impeachment. Giuliani, who was also involved in Trump’s 2016 debate prep, led an effort to dig up opposition research in Ukraine on the president’s political rivals.

The president’s team is zeroing in on which moderators will be chosen and says both the reelection campaign and Biden should have a say. Trump repeatedly complained about debate moderators in 2016 — perhaps most famously over Megyn Kelly’s questioning of him in the first debate of the GOP primary.

It's not the first time the Trump team has raised concerns about the fall debates. During a meeting with Fahrenkopf late last year, Parscale raised concerns about the ideological makeup of the commission. Trump tweeted in December, “The problem is that the so-called Commission on Presidential Debates is stacked with Trump Haters & Never Trumpers.”

In the same tweet, Trump referred to the defective microphone that plagued him during a 2016 debate with Hillary Clinton.

“I will make a decision at an appropriate time but in the meantime, the Commission on Presidential Debates is NOT authorized to speak for me (or R’s)!” he added.

Since Biden’s emergence, however, Trump aides have become less focused on the composition of the commission and more on increasing the number of debates.

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