Opinion: President Trump won't interrupt at next week's debate — because he won't be there

Moderator Susan Page, USA The current head of the Washington office speaks during the Vice Presidential Debate Wednesday at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City.
I can't make up my mind whether to blame President Trump for pulling out of the debate with former Vice President Joe Biden for the next week or to express my gratitude to a grateful nation. But after two sessions that offended the intelligence of American voters, I am inclined to the latter.
The Presidential Debate Commission announced early Thursday that, as a precaution, the October 15th debate would be held at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami instead of indoors. The town hall format had requested that the candidates be interviewed by members of the audience, which increased the risk of a coronavirus outbreak.
Biden agreed to the change. Trump didn't say in an interview with Fox Business, "I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate. That is not what debates are about." Instead, the president, who is still taking the steroid dexamethasone for his COVID-19 infection, will hold a rally.
I admit, I looked forward to seeing Trump position himself on stage in Miami to stand ominously in the background when Biden answered questions, as Trump often did to Hillary Clinton during her town hall debate in 2016. The virtual format wouldn't allow what might have made it less attractive to Trump. His poll numbers rose after the initial debate, which may have been another factor in his decision to retire.
But that's why I'm kind of grateful that Trump is getting the Kibosh to participate in next week's debate, at least for now. (Trump has a habit of changing positions like a weather vane; and as if on cue, his campaign reversed Thursday morning and said the next two debates should actually take place - but a week later and in person. Not a word from Biden's campaign yet whether it would agree.)
The game of art that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence showed off during the Vice Presidential debate on Wednesday last week has received a lot of attention that it deserves for being extreme. The most frustrating aspect of the debates, however, was how unenlightening they were. Given the repeated opportunity to bring Americans closer to their differences and their plans for the next four years, the candidates have largely smelled.
After the smoldering wreck of the Trump-Biden dust cloud, many observers expected the debate between Pence and Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., To be far more political and productive. USA Today host Susan Page kept her side of the business up and asked sharp, possibly insightful, questions on a number of important topics. However, instead of responding, the candidates provided the broadsides their campaigns wanted from them.
Nowhere was this more evident than when Page noted how Trump's doctors had given misleading or evasive answers about the president's health in recent days and asked if the public had a right to know more. Pence praised the care Trump received, saying "the transparency they practiced all the way will continue," then thanked Biden and Harris for their concern. It was probably his most graceful evasive maneuver of the night.
Given the opportunity to list the many open questions about Trump's health and its harmful effects - for example, "Why doesn't he say when he last tested negative for the virus?" Or, "Why was he getting the kind of treatment usually given to COVID-19 patients who had symptoms much worse than he revealed?" - Harris immediately switched to Trump's income taxes. Seriously. Its taxes.
Equally annoying was the discussion of what would happen if the Supreme Court overthrew Roe against Wade. Page asked Pence, the former governor of Indiana, what restrictions on abortion he would like to see if this state imposes them. He spoke first about foreign policy and then about whether Trump's last-minute Supreme Court candidate, Amy Coney Barrett, would question her religious views of Harris and other Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was bad forehead clapping.
He came back to the subject later, but only to explain how "pro-life" he and Trump are. But what does this mean for restricting a woman's right to abortion? Does he want them to be illegal under all circumstances? Does he want doctors and nurses who perform them to be prosecuted? Does he want to ban the morning after pill and other drugs that anti-abortionists see as abortion drugs? Even if you followed the debate with the intensity of a cat eyeing a squirrel, you would still have no idea.
Then Page asked Harris what she would like to see of California, a state that has constitutional rights to privacy and legal rights to abortion. She said, "I will always fight for a woman's right to make choices about her own body." Then she talked about how the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to crush the Affordable Care Act. That's important, of course, but Harris gave viewers no idea how far she believed the right to abortion should extend.
The next time Pence spoke, he replied for her, "Joe Biden and Kamala Harris support taxpayers' funding for abortion until the moment of birth." Is that true? Harris made no reply and left viewers - and voters - in wonder.
When the public has a right to know, candidates plan to do so on issues that are of vital importance to them. And these debates don't have much to offer in that regard. Do we really need more of it?
9:44 a.m., Oct 08, 2020: This article was updated with the Trump campaign announcing that the next two debates would be postponed, not canceled.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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