Why only “maybe?” Well, several reasons actually.
1) Biden said last week Trump needed to test negative for Covid-19 on the day of the debate or he wouldn’t show up.
Here’s the exchange with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos at a town hall on Thursday:
Stephanopoulos: “Will you demand that President Trump take a test that day and that it be negative before you debate?”
Biden: “Yeah. By the way, before I came up here, I took another test, I’ve been taking it every day, the deep test, you know, the one, they go in both. Because I wanted to be able to — if I had not passed that test, I didn’t want to come here and not expose anybody.”
Trump, since contracting and then seemingly recovering from the coronavirus, has been very, very cagey about how often he is tested, how he is tested and when he tested negative after his initial diagnosis. As have the people closest to him.
Check out this back-and-forth on Sunday between CNN’s Jake Tapper and Lara Lea Trump, the President’ daughter-in-law and a member of his campaign:
Tapper: Does the President promise to release a negative test before he goes on stage with Joe Biden on Thursday, so that we can all see it?
L. Trump: Again, I — I don’t work in the White House.
Tapper: No, you work for the campaign.
L. Trump: You will have to ask the President that directly. He just had Covid. He has now been cleared of Covid, so that means he’s had a negative test. I’m sure he will have another one before he goes to this debate.
2) The Commission on Presidential Debates is set to meet Monday afternoon to discuss potential rule changes in advance of Thursday’s debate.
Here’s the thing: We just learned about this meeting on Monday morning! Less than three full days before the debate! Which is, well, kind of last-minute!
Remember that the day after the debacle of the first debate between Trump and Biden in late September, the Commission released a statement that said this: “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.”
Which, yes, makes sense. After all, Trump’s incessant interrupting — of both Biden and debate moderator Chris Wallace — made the entire thing utterly unwatchable. (Worth noting: Trump’s debate performance also badly damaged the incumbent, as his poll numbers dropped even lower in its aftermath.)
Now, it’s possible, as one commission source told CNN’s Dan Merica on Monday, that no changes are made to the rules of the debate. But if the commission does make changes, it’s uniquely possible that either one side or the other — most likely the Trump side, if I am being honest — rejects those rules. (We didn’t have a second debate last week because Trump refused the Commission’s demand that it be held virtually out of concern that he was still infectious with Covid-19.)
Let’s say, for example, that the Commission comes out of this meeting and says that any candidate who interrupts their opponents more than five times will have their mic cut off when the other person is answering for the remainder of the debate. That might make for a more edifying debate, but there is a zero percent chance Trump and his team would go forward with a debate under those rules.
3) Trump is Trump
In the words of Kevin Garnett: “Anything is possible!!!“
In Trump we have the least predictable president ever. He is a showman and a provocateur first and foremost. He does things to elicit a reaction. And that’s especially true right now as Trump faces the likelihood that he is going to lose in 15 days.
There is literally nothing that I can’t fathom Trump trying between now and November 3 in order to win — or to make people believe that everything was rigged against him. And Trump’s campaign has already attacked the Commission, which is chaired by former Republican National Committee Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf, as “swamp monsters” and partisan, anti-Trump[ers].”
Do you really think, given all we know about Trump and all he and his campaign have said about the debates and the organization that runs them, that him walking away from the debate at the last minute is an impossibility?
Running counter to all of this is the fact that Trump is in no position to turn away an audience in the tens of millions given his current place in the race. There simply will be no better or other chance for the incumbent to change the arc of the race tan Thursday’s debate.
Of course, that assumes Trump is more focused on doing what it would take to win this race and less on scoring political points to make the case to his aggrieved base that he (and they) were cheated out of a win.