Four days after a report from The New York Times alleged that he may simply skip the traditional debates against his Democratic opponent in the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump said on Monday that he may agree to take part in more than the three scheduled debates — but only on his own terms.
“As President, the debates are up to me,” Trump wrote in a three-part Twitter thread, adding that there are “many options, including doing them directly.”
Trump did not explain what he meant by “doing them directly,” but his tweets also attacked the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, a group founded in 1987 by both the Republican and Democratic parties.
The nonprofit commission has organized all presidential debates starting with the one in 1988 between then-Vice President George H.W. Bush — the Republican nominee — and Democratic Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.
In his tweets, Trump alleged that the commission was “stacked with Trump Haters & Never Trumpers.” He claimed that after one of the 2016 presidential debates between Trump and the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, the commission was “forced to apologize” for “modulating” his microphone.
Trump’s claim that the commission apologized — or changed the settings of his microphone — was false. In the first Trump-Clinton debate, the commission acknowledged “issues” regarding Trump’s microphone that caused his voice to sound somewhat quieter inside the debate hall, according to a report from The New York Times. The commission issued no apology and the microphone malfunction did not affect the television broadcast of the debate.
With more than nine months to go before the first scheduled presidential general election debate, currently set for September 29 at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Trump’s opponent has not yet been determined. But most polls continue to show former Vice President Joe Biden continuing to lead the Democratic field — and to lead Trump by convincing margins in head-to-head general election polls.
According to The New York Times report published last Thursday, Trump is already talking to his advisers about “the possibility of sitting out the general election debates” due supposedly to his “misgivings” about the commission.
The report continued, saying that Trump is less concerned with the identity of his Democratic opponent than with “which media personality will be chosen as the debate moderator.” When the subject of the debates was brought up with the president, he appeared to “wince,” one senior adviser told The New York Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni.
In 2016, Trump griped that he was somehow treated unfairly in the debates against Clinton. His complaint may also have been a reaction to the polling results following the debates. According to The New York Times report, a Gallup poll following the debates showed that 60 percent of the public perceived Clinton as the winner, nearly twice as many as the 31 percent who thought Trump gave a better performance.
In his Monday tweets, Trump said he would “make a decision at an appropriate time” regarding whether or not he will take part in next year’s debates.