So much for that idea. The Commission on Presidential Debates chose the option I predicted yesterday for the next bout between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in light of Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis. Early this morning, CPD announced that the town-hall forum scheduled for next week would be “virtual,” with Trump and Biden in their own locations and the town-hall participants and moderator in Miami as planned. Sounds good? Er

The second debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will take place virtually amid the fallout from the president’s diagnosis of COVID-19, the debate commission announced Thursday.

The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates cited a need “to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate.” The candidates will “participate from separate remote locations” while the participants and moderator remain in Miami, it said.

The announcement comes a week before Biden and Trump were scheduled to face off in Miami.

Sounds fair, right? Joe Biden thinks so:

“Vice President Biden looks forward to speaking directly to the American people and comparing his plan for bringing the country together and building back better with Donald Trump’s failed leadership on the coronavirus that has thrown the strong economy he inherited into the worst downturn since the Great Depression.”

Donald Trump … not so much. Claiming the CPD change was “a sad excuse to bail out Joe Biden,” Team Trump announced that the president would instead hold a rally that night:

Trump himself wasted no time telling Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business Network that the change was “unacceptable,” beating his campaign to the punch. “I’m not going to waste my time on a virtual debate,” Trump said. Trump sounded particularly incensed that CPD didn’t attempt to negotiate the issue, instead calling with their decision just before going public with it:

If that’s actually what happened, then Trump has some reason to push back against the CPD. That panel exists to negotiate debate terms, not to dictate to the campaigns. It seems odd, however, that CPD wouldn’t have at least asked for some input from the campaigns. It’s possible that Team Trump signaled an openness to this but never ran it by The Boss, too.

Trump’s other objections are more understandable. Trump sees this as a way for the moderator to cut him off, a selling point even I made when floating it as a possibility yesterday, although I also pointed out that Biden would require the same kind of limitation. Also, it’s tough to do a “town hall” format when you’re not in the room with the questioners. Why stick with that format with both candidates in remote locations?

This leaves Trump with the political problems that come from refusing to debate. Trump and his team would have jumped all over Biden had the Democrat refused to debate, accusing him of cowardice and/or incapacity. Trump’s supporters had predicted Biden wouldn’t show up the first time for those supposed reasons. If Trump refuses to participate now, he can expect the same kind of backlash, plus more criticism for risking more spread of COVID-19 with a personal appearance while CDC guidelines suggest he should still be isolating [see update below].

Hugh Hewitt’s suggestion would answer the first set of criticisms but not the second:

Can it be done safely a week from today, just ten days after Trump’s release from Walter Reed? That’s the issue, and it plays into the overall criticism that Trump hasn’t taken COVID-19 seriously enough. With the White House transformed into a contagion hot spot over the last couple of weeks, this is risky in several different ways. Mike Pence did a pretty good job last night of shoring up Trump’s flank on the pandemic, but this threatens to undo some of that work and overshadow Pence’s win.

The solution to this is pretty simple. Hold the virtual debate, get rid of the dumb town-hall format, and commit to keeping the microphones of both candidates live at all times. Since that’s the real objection from Trump, just let both sides rip.

Update: Twitter follower MC points out that CDC guidelines actually suggest Trump should be in the clear by the time of the debate, but it might depend on how one sees Trump’s hospitalization. Was it for a “severe illness”?

You can be with others after

  • At least 10 days since symptoms first appeared and
  • At least 24 hours with no fever without fever-reducing medication and
  • Other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving**Loss of taste and smell may persist for weeks or months after recovery and need not delay the end of isolation​

If you had severe illness from COVID-19 (you were admitted to a hospital and needed oxygen), your healthcare provider may recommend that you stay in isolation for longer than 10 days after your symptoms first appeared (possibly up to 20 days) and you may need to finish your period of isolation at home. If testing is available in your community, your healthcare provider may recommend that you undergo repeat testing for COVID-19 to end your isolation earlier than would be done according to the criteria above. If so, you can be around others after you receive two negative tests results in a row, from tests done at least 24 hours apart.

If it was “severe,” and Trump was on oxygen at one point, then the standard would be 20 days isolation — which would be well past the scheduled debate. Trump is getting repeated testing, though, so the better metric would be two negative tests at least 24 hours apart. Assuming that happens, then there shouldn’t be any issue with Trump’s participation. However, the rest of Trump’s entourage could present additional risks, thanks to the outbreak at the White House, so that is also something to consider.