Supporters Urge Joe Biden Not to Debate Trump, Applaud Hosts for Canceling Over COVID-19 Concerns

Democratic strategists and supporters of Vice President Joe Biden are urging him not to debate President Donald Trump in the lead-up to Election Day, citing Trump's publicity stunts and disregard for the rules in 2016. Meanwhile Biden backers, including some conservatives, applauded the University of Notre Dame and the University of Michigan for cancelling their scheduled debates over COVID-19 concerns.

Former White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart joined several Democratic Party strategists in bluntly advising Biden, "whatever you do, don't debate Trump." Speaking on CNN Saturday, Lockhart said Trump shouldn't be given another platform which will enable him to "repeat lies," which he said occurred in the 2016 debates against Hillary Clinton.

The Trump campaign has pushed the other way and urged the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which officially oversees the events, to hold even more debates.

"We saw in the debates in 2016 Hillary Clinton showed a mastery of the issues, every point she made was more honest and bested Trump," Lockhart told CNN. "But Trump came out of the debates doing better I think because he just kept repeating the same old lies: 'we're going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it,' 'we're going to keep all those Mexican rapists out of the country,' and 'we're going to make great trade deals' — none of these things have come to pass."

"Giving him that national forum to continue to spout — get him to 21,000 or 22,000 lies — I think just isn't worth it for the Democrats or for Biden," Lockhart continued.

Several opinion columns published in recent months have called for an outright cancellation of the debates, describing them — alongside the party conventions — as outdated political rituals designed purely for TV ratings.

Longtime Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton senior adviser Zac Petkanas agreed with calls for Biden to back out of any and all debates with Trump in the coming months. As it stands currently, there are three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate scheduled between September 29 and October 22.

"Biden shouldn't feel obligated to throw Trump a lifeline by granting him any debates at all. This is not a normal presidential election and Trump is not a legitimate candidate," Petkanas tweeted last week, expressing his "opinion that no one asked for."

Speculation over the cancellation of the Biden versus Trump 2020 presidential debates increased last week after the University of Notre Dame withdrew its campus as host of the September 29 event over coronavirus concerns. The University of Michigan withdrew from hosting a presidential debate on its campus in June, which has since been rescheduled at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.

Political commentator Bill Kristol, a so-called "Never Trump" conservative, praised Notre Dame for withdrawing as host of the first presidential debate over coronavirus concerns.

"Good. No need to go to any trouble to replace this debate. Indeed, I gather Biden's already all booked up with zoom calls in those weeks. Also, the Jewish holidays. And the new Perry Mason series. Too bad!" Kristol quipped on Twitter.

The first presidential debate is now set to take place at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland on September 29; the first vice presidential debate is currently set to take place at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on October 7. The second presidential debate is scheduled for the Arsht Center on October 15, and the third and final debate is set to take place on October 22 on the campus of Belmont University in Nashville.

Newsweek reached out to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has been in charge of planning all debates since the 1988 election, as well as the Biden and Trump campaigns Saturday afternoon.

In June, the Trump campaign aggressively lobbied the presidential debate commission to schedule an additional debate contest between the president and Biden. Political analysts said the request was a reaction to Trump's sagging poll numbers, and one Trump official's claim that "the more [Biden] talks, the better off we are."

Correction 5:11 PM ET: A previous version of this article inaccurately quoted Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty as labeling the debates "pointless, lobbyist-funded infomercials" aimed at TV ratings. She was instead referring solely to the party conventions.

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Democratic strategists and supporters of Vice President Joe Biden are urging him not to debate President Donald Trump in the lead-up to November 3 election, citing Trump's publicity stunts and disregard for the rules in 2016. POOL/Getty Images