Town halls spark distracting controversies that could have been avoided with a virtual debate

By Megan Loock

Elm Staff Writer

On Oct. 9, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the cancellation of the second debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. The announcement came after the former refused to participate in a virtual debate as he recovered from his COVID-19 diagnosis.

The CPD suggested a virtual debate after Trump confirmed that he had contracted the virus on Oct. 2, three days after the first in-person debate.  

After Trump refused to participate in a virtual debate, calling it “a waste of time” during an interview on Fox, the CPD was left to scramble for a contingency plan. 

While debating virtually is not ideal, it is the most practical way to give the American people a view of both candidates in order to make a well-informed decision by election day on Nov. 3. 

As a result of the stalemate between the Trump campaign and the CPD, the Biden campaign pushed forward to conduct a solo town hall on Oct. 15. 

“For the swamp creatures at the Presidential Debate Commission to now rush to Joe Biden’s defense by unilaterally canceling an in-person debate is pathetic,” Trump’s Campaign Manager Bill Stepien said in a statement published to the official campaign website.

Biden’s town hall was broadcast from Pennsylvania only on ABC, while President Trump’s town hall was moderated by NBC and broadcast on NBC, CNBC, and MSNBC. Both premiered at 8 p.m. 

Deadline reported that numerous celebrities, including actor JJ Abrams and filmmaker Ava DuVernay, wrote a letter in protest of NBC’s scheduling of Trump’s town hall at the same time as Biden’s, asking the network to move its premier time. NBC refused to comply. 

The simultaneous premieres presented a big problem for the American people that would not have occurred in the case of a virtual debate — a choice of which candidate to tune into.

“By agreeing to air his town hall as counterprogramming opposite Vice President Biden’s town hall on ABC, you are enabling the President’s bad behavior while undercutting the Presidential Debate Commission and doing a disservice to the American public,” the letter said. 

Despite the counterprogramming, The Washington Post reported that Biden’s town hall viewership surpassed that of Trump’s competing event. This is impressive, especially considering that Trump’s town hall aired on three channels, while Biden’s only aired on one.

“Political analysts are split on whether debates really make a big difference in the outcome of an election,” WBAL’s Kim Dacey said. “But in a close election, a small misstep can have big consequences.”

For more decisive voters, the separate town halls may not pose an issue. But, considering the importance that has been placed on this election, presidential debates are essential for candidates to secure swing states, independents, and young voters. 

According to NPR, there are 10 states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, and Nevada — in this election cycle in which the millennial vote is predicted to significantly sway the 2020 election. By refusing to participate in a virtual debate that could have been used to address millennial voters in these important swing states, Trump didn’t do himself any favors. 

“In this universe, the two presidential contenders will be addressing entirely different audiences from entirely different locations, confronting entirely different realities. And yet, we probably would have ended up describing the debate in that way anyways,” MSNBC’s Hayes Brown said.

The American people deserved to become informed on both platforms by seeing Trump and Biden debate side by side rather than from separate town halls. That is the only way to gain clarity about the candidates’ stances on certain policies. 

The two candidates are scheduled to hold their final debate on Oct. 22 in Nashville, Ten. It is still unknown if it will operate in person.

In-person debates are one of the essential tools used by the American people to determine the future of their nation. Despite unconventionality, virtual debates are the next best thing. Trump balked at the chance to compete with the opponent he’s nicknamed “Sleepy Joe,” which shows that his blatant narcissism will always be his greatest flaw.

Featured Photo caption: President Donald Trump refused to participate in a virtual debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, leading to a string of controversies relating to the town halls scheduled in its stead. Photo Courtesy of ABC News.

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