The proposals to the Commission on Presidential Debates came just months after the campaign threatened to refuse to participate in any of the three previously scheduled debates if they were “not fair.” Trump officials are now looking for ways to force Biden to make more public appearances, believing the “more he talks, the better off we are,” according to a senior campaign official.
With only Trump dominating the political stage, the president’s numbers have continued to sag in swing states as voters fault his handling of the pandemic and police brutality protests across the nation, according to a wide array of public polls. The Trump campaign sees more debates as a way to potentially damage Biden, whose favorability numbers have to go down for Trump to win, according to campaign advisers.
The Biden campaign accused Trump of a political ploy.
“Six months after announcing he did not want to debate, Donald Trump — now trailing in the polls — wants to change the subject from his failed leadership, and launch a ‘campaign’ for many debates,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement. “But there’s a catch: he’ll only do it if he can pick the moderators.”
Trump campaign officials, including manager Brad Parscale and outside lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, argued to the commission that a fourth debate is needed in early September because so many are likely to vote early and absentee due to the coronavirus pandemic. The first debate is scheduled for Sept. 29 at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
It was Giuliani’s first discussion with the debate commission in 2020, but he was involved in the campaign’s interactions with the commission in 2016 and the former mayor took a leading role in the call.
The commission, however, has studied the percentage of voters who cast their ballots before Oct. 1 and has concluded that it is a tiny percentage of the electorate.
Frank Fahrenkopf, the chairman of the debate commission, said that if the Trump and Biden campaigns agreed on the desirability of a fourth debate, the commission would do everything it could to make it happen.
The dates for the first three debates have already been set. For a fourth debate to happen in early September, both sides would have to agree.
“We want fair debates. We want them sooner, and we want a bigger schedule. We also don’t want them up against football games competing for viewers. As many Americans as possible need to see the stark differences between the accomplishments and leadership of President Trump and the failed record and sleepiness of Joe Biden,” Parscale said.
Bedingfield said the Biden campaign would show up for “the debates set by the Commission on Presidential Debates, at the places they have selected, on the dates they have selected, with the formats and moderators they designate — so long as Donald Trump does the same, and does not intimidate the Commission into changes from past practices.”
Giuliani did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.
Trump, meanwhile, has downplayed fears of the pandemic surging in the fall in recent days and has railed against voting by mail. It remains unclear if there will be an NFL season this fall.
Annie Linskey contributed to this report.