Donald Trump complained Friday that Hillary Clinton and her fellow Democrats were rigging this fall’s presidential debates by scheduling them alongside NFL games. That claim was easy to disprove — the debate schedule was determined almost a year ago by a private group made up of both Democrats and Republicans.
On Saturday, Trump doubled down on his grievance. In an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” the GOP presidential hopeful said the NFL voiced its dismay about the conflicting primetime slots in a letter to Trump.
“I’ll tell you what I don’t like,” Trump told George Stephanopoulos. “It’s against two NFL games. I got a letter from the NFL saying, “This is ridiculous.'”
Just one problem with that: The NFL says it never sent him a letter. CNN’s Brian Stelter approached the league about the matter and got this response:
Top @NFL spokesman tells me: "While we'd obviously wish the debate commission could find another night, we did not send a letter to Trump."
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) July 30, 2016
The Republican nominee, in a tweet Friday night, complained that the first two debates — slated for Sept. 26 and Oct. 9, a Monday and a Sunday, respectively — fell into the same time slots as primetime football.
As usual, Hillary & the Dems are trying to rig the debates so 2 are up against major NFL games. Same as last time w/ Bernie. Unacceptable!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2016
On Sunday morning, the Trump team tripled down and tweaked its claim, with an aide telling CNN (via Stelter) that “Mr. Trump was made aware of the conflicting dates by a source close to the league” and “It’s unfortunate that millions of voters will be disenfranchised by these chosen dates.”
The debate schedule was set up last September by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan group with members of both parties. The commission responded to Trump on Saturday by asserting that it “announced the number, dates and sites for the 2016 general election debates in September 2015.”
“The CPD did not consult with any political parties or campaigns in making these decisions,” the group said.
It doesn’t appear that ESPN’s Week 3 “Monday Night Football” matchup should pose much of a distraction for swing voters anyway. The game features the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, a showdown that shouldn’t draw overwhelming interest outside Georgia or Louisiana, two states that likely favor Trump no matter what happens between now and November.
The second debate, meanwhile, might pose a more legitimate concern. The Oct. 9 “Sunday Night Football” matchup pits the Giants at the Green Bay Packers. That’s Trump pal Chris Christie’s home state of New Jersey vs. Wisconsin, a state that could be in play for Trump in the general election despite his loss to Ted Cruz there in the primary.
And, besides, “Sunday Night Football,” no matter the matchup, is a ratings juggernaut that is consistently the No. 1 TV show in annual ratings, but Stelter pointed out that a Sunday night debate in 2012 was “still high-rated.”
Some view all this as Trump grasping for excuses to back out of the debates. These critics point to what happened in January, when Trump took issue with Fox News personality Megyn Kelly directing his verbatim quotes at him during another debate.
Based on @MegynKelly's conflict of interest and bias she should not be allowed to be a moderator of the next debate.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 23, 2016
Trump backed out of the long-scheduled Fox News debate several days later.