Here’s an easy prediction to make for 2020: As we get closer to the general election debates next fall, there will be a lot of drama around format, moderators and whether President Donald Trump will show up.
On Monday, he gave a glimpse of how he will approach the events, when he attacked the organizers yet still insisted that he will debate his Democratic opponent. It just may not be the officially sanctioned debates.
In contrast to the ongoing Democratic primary debates, which are sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee and rotated among media co-hosts, the general election debates are set up to be non-partisan. The Commission on Presidential Debates, made up of Democrats and Republicans, oversees the events, as it has since 1988. The debates have no media sponsors — they run across all broadcast, cable and streaming networks.
But Trump is still upset over an audio issue at the first debate in 2016 against Hillary Clinton that affected the sound level in the debate hall.
Trump has taken that technical glitch to mean bias on the part of the commission.
He tweeted on Monday, “I look very much forward to debating whoever the lucky person is who stumbles across the finish line in the little watched Do Nothing Democrat Debates. My record is so good on the Economy and all else, including debating, that perhaps I would consider more than 3 debates…..
“….The problem is that the so-called Commission on Presidential Debates is stacked with Trump Haters & Never Trumpers. 3 years ago they were forced to publicly apologize for modulating my microphone in the first debate against Crooked Hillary. As President, the debates are up…
“….to me, and there are many options, including doing them directly & avoiding the nasty politics of this very biased Commission. 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)!”
The New York Times reported last week that Trump also has concerns over which journalists will be selected as moderators.
In a statement, the commission said that the “televised general election debates are an important part of our Democratic process. Since 1988, the Commission on Presidential Debates has conducted 30 general election presidential and vice presidential debates. Our record is one of fairness, balance and non-partisanship.”
The commission has not selected moderators for the events, but has selected dates and venues.
The first debate will be on Sept. 29 at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN; the next on Oct. 15 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI; and on Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Nashville. A vice presidential debate will be held on Oct. 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Presidential candidates have agreed to at least one general election debate in every cycle since 1976.
Trump’s complaints about the commission aren’t surprising given his reaction to the events in 2016, in which many polls showed Hillary Clinton prevailed, albeit not enough to save her from electoral college defeat. He could be trying, even early on, to exert leverage over moderator selection and format. Or he could just be making noise — and it won’t be much of a surprise if those gripes continue right up until the first face off with his Democratic opponent.