With pressure building to change the rules for an upcoming presidential debate in Miami following a disastrous first performance Tuesday by President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Trump’s political advisers launched a volley of attacks on the organization that sponsors the events.
In a conference call with reporters, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien and senior adviser Jason Miller accused board members of the Commission on Presidential Debates of a pro-Biden bias. They read off a laundry list of grievances, such as contributing to Democratic campaigns and criticizing Trump in the press.
“I sincerely hope these members leave their partisan, anti-Trump beliefs, words and actions at the door as we take the next steps forward toward the lead-up of the debate in Miami in the next few weeks,” Stepien said.
The unusual decision to attack the largely obscure, non-partisan body that has hosted presidential debates for 32 years followed heavy criticism of Trump’s behavior during the first debate in Cleveland. Trump frequently interrupted Biden and goaded him into trading potshots during a 90-minute forum that was quickly and widely panned as the worst presidential debate in history.
Later that evening, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, said the campaign would likely seek some changes in the rules of the upcoming debates. The commission seemed to agree Wednesday.
“Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues,” the organization said in a statement.
But Trump campaign representatives suggested Thursday in a conference call with reporters that they would not agree to any rule changes for the Miami event, a town hall-style forum in which undecided voters will directly ask the candidates questions at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
Their attacks were aimed at comments critical of Trump by former Republican National Committee Chairman and debate commission co-chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf and donations to Democrats by co-chairwoman Dorothy Ridings. They also criticized the organization’s 10 board members.
“President Trump fully plans on participating in — and winning — the second and third debates in the presidential contest here,” said Miller. “We feel confident. But there shouldn’t be any agreements to what’s set out and it’s notable the Biden campaign is pushing some of these changes for the simple fact their candidate didn’t win Tuesday.”
The Trump campaign’s chief debate negotiator, Max Miller, told reporters that Biden’s campaign has requested that the moderator be granted a mute button to silence candidates and has asked that an opening dialogue between Biden and Trump be reduced from 11 minutes “to almost nothing.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for the Biden campaign said Trump should focus more on running the country and less on debate rules.
“Perhaps if the president and his team spent as much time worrying about the country as they do about debate rules, he would not be trailing and would not have engaged in the desperate, out-of-control behavior — emblematic of his tenure — that he showed on Tuesday night,” said campaign spokesman Andrew Bates.
The Miami debate is set for Oct. 15. Biden has said he intends to show up for the event, as has Trump.