Given that it’s the middle of August, the fall’s presidential debates may seem like a distant dot on the horizon, but take another look at the calendar: the first showdown is scheduled for Sept. 26. That’s exactly six weeks from today.
Whether that debate will actually happen, however, is still unclear.
When we last checked in on this story a couple of weeks ago, Donald Trump was asked whether he would accept the schedule adopted by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates. The Republican not only declined to answer, he also made a series of demonstrably false claims about the process.
Last week, Politico reported that there is “increasing concern in news and political circles that Donald Trump will not agree to the three slated presidential debates this fall, a historic break with political norms in the lead-up to the election.”
Debate moderators have not been announced, but Republican and Democratic sources, senior media executives and anchors in New York and Washington are casting serious doubt about whether Trump will agree to participate in the primetime events.Multiple typically chatty Trump sources either passed the buck or did not respond to emails about whether the GOP presidential nominee is committed to participating…. During any other presidential cycle, attendance at the debates would never be in doubt.
Trump told Time magazine he’s “absolutely” prepared to participate in the scheduled events, but note the caveat in his answer: “I want to debate very badly. But I have to see the conditions.”
In the same interview, Trump said, “I renegotiated the debates in the primaries, remember? They were making a fortune on them and they had us in for three and a half hours and I said that’s ridiculous. I’m sure they’ll be open to any suggestions I have, because I think they’ll be very fair suggestions. But I haven’t [seen the conditions] yet.”
The GOP nominee added, “I’ll have to see who the moderators are. Yeah, I would say that certain moderators would be unacceptable, absolutely. I did very well in the debates on the primaries. According to the polls, I won all of them. So I look forward to the debates. But, yeah, I want to have fair moderators…. I will demand fair moderators.”
No one on Team Trump has specified who would meet the threshold for “fair,” but these comments certainly leave open the possibility of the Republican candidate refusing to participate.
If Trump balks, this will be the first year since 1972 in which the major-party presidential nominees did not debate.