Debates must go on, one way or another

Were the COVID-19 virus to be a creature capable of thought, it would be easy now to accuse it of engaging in a plot aimed at American democracy. The most devious, evil schemer based in Moscow or Beijing could not come up with a more perfect storm leading up to the Nov. 3 election.

With Election Day less than a month away, the president of the United States is sick and recently was hospitalized.

President Donald Trump now has been released from the hospital and insists he’s feeling fine.

Still, the fate of the final debates between the Republican president and Democrat Joe Biden was thrown into uncertainty Thursday as the campaigns put out dueling proposals for moving forward with a process that has been upended by the president’s coronavirus infection.

Now it seems unclear when or how the next debates would proceed, or even if voters would even get to see the two men running for the White House on the same stage again before Election Day.

The whipsaw day began with an announcement from the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which said the next debate on Oct. 15 would be held virtually. The commission cited health concerns following Trump’s infection as the reason for changing the structure of the town hall-style debate.

Trump, who is eager to return to the campaign trail after his diagnosis, said he wouldn’t participate if the debate wasn’t in person. Biden suggested the event be delayed a week until Oct. 22, which is when the third and final debate is already scheduled.

Trump then countered again, agreeing to a debate on Oct. 22 — but only if face to face — and asking that a third contest be added on Oct. 29, just before the election. But Biden rejected holding a debate that late in the campaign.

The commission, which has the unenviable task of finding common ground between the competing campaigns, did not weigh in on any of the new proposals.

The commission should consult with both the Biden and Trump campaigns, of course. It may be that some fair means can be found to change ground rules to make it fair to both sides.

Either way, doing nothing should not be considered an option. The American people deserve to see both Trump and Biden debating while at their best, or as nearly so as possible.



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