Election Watch 3: Corona confusion and a cancelled debate

covid election

Since the chaotic and controversial Presidential Debate on September 29, events have turned even more dramatic in the American presidential campaign.

On October 2, the White House announced that President Donald Trump had come down with COVID-19. The news exploded like a bombshell, spreading confusion in all directions. Trump was hospitalized for three days. His illness became the central issue of the election, focusing attention on the very issue, the corona crisis, he had wished to avoid discussing. At first it was unclear if and when he would be able to return to the campaign trail – or if he would recover at all. Democrats and their candidate, Joe Biden, naturally wished him a speedy recovery, but also noted that it was his own lack of social distancing and use of facemasks in the White House that had led to his infection. For them it was a question of “I told you so.”

Trump’s illness also threw the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) into confusion. The Second Presidential Debate was to take place on October 15. It was a “town hall” meeting at which members a live audience could ask Trump and Biden questions face to face. Given that Trump might still be infectious by that date, the CPD decided on October 8 that the only safe way to handle the debate – both for the audience and for Biden – was to run it as a “virtual” online meeting. Trump’s reaction was swift and angry – “I am not going to do a virtual debate.” Perhaps this was because this would allow a moderator to – as he put it – “cut you off whenever they want” – not Trump’s idea of a debate. Instead, he suggested putting the town hall meeting off to October 22 – the original date for the Third Debate – and then staging an additional and final debate on October 29. That was rejected by both the CPD and the Biden campaign, which remarked, “Donald Trump doesn’t make the debate schedule; the Debate Commission does.”  

For this reason, the Second Presidential Debate has been cancelled. As this is written, Joe Biden has scheduled an individual virtual town hall meeting to be held on October 15th in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Meantime, President Trump – who has been declared corona virus free by his personal doctor, Sean Conly –  scheduled a live campaign rally in Sanford, Florida and a series of rallies in the following weeks. Confusion, however, continues to surround his health. According to Center for Disease Control guidelines, a corona patient should remain isolated for a minimum of 10 days or up to 20 days for severe cases, just to be certain they are not infectious. It remains unclear how severe Trump’ case has actually been. But even if it is true that Trump is now virus free, many doctors believe that a man of his age and weight should avoid stressful activities for some time after having COVID-19. They worry that his health could still deteriorate - “I would still be careful with someone like him,” said infectious disease physician Dr. Krutika Kuppalli.

Clearly, COVID-19 continues to dominate the campaign.

Trump supporters at an election rally Trump supporters at an election rally




1 Tracking Corona Confusion

Make groups of three and work with one or more of the following questions. Report your findings to the class. You will find helpful websites in the attached Word document.

  1. How has the press reacted to the cancelling of the Second Presidential Debate? Which candidate gains the most from calling off this debate, according to your sources?
  2. What information can you find online about President Trump’s present state of health? Do your sources of information agree with one another?
  3. Has the Commission for Presidential Debates (CPD) come up with any official statement about cancelling the Second Presidential Debate? If so, what does it say?
  4. What reasons did the CPD and the Biden campaign give when they rejected Trump’s suggestion to change the dates of the debates? What do you think of his suggestion?
  5. Has the cancelling of the Second Presidential Debate had any effect on the popularity of the candidates in the latest polls?
  6. Which of the two candidates does the public think is doing the better job of handling the corona crisis in their campaign?


2 Discussion

Make groups of three

  1. Do you think the Third Presidential Debate scheduled for October 22 will take place, or will that, too, be cancelled? What could stop it?
  2. If Donald Trump is indeed virus free, can you see any reason why he should not hold political rallies around the country?
  3. Joe Biden is making almost all his political appearances at virtual meetings online, rather than face to face. At this point in the campaign, do you think this is an advantage or a disadvantage for him?
  4. There are people in the United States who believe that wearing a facemask must be a personal choice, not something a government can order them to do. Why do they feel this way, do you think? What is your opinion on the matter?


3 Detective work – Who and why?

See if you can track down who said the following, and why they said it:

  • “Mr. Vice President, I am speaking”
  • “Proud Boys - stand back and stand by.”
  • "The data speak for themselves - we had a superspreader event."
  • “If I win, you’re getting an invitation to Washington. Not a joke.” 
  • “I think this was a blessing from God that I caught it.”
  • “Donald Trump can show up, or he can decline again. That’s his choice.”
  • “If you haven’t figured it out yet, the straight answer is, they are going to pack the Supreme Court.”
  • “He didn’t take the necessary precautions to protect himself or others.”

Key: see the attached Word document.