The University of Michigan Withdraws From Hosting a Presidential Debate This Fall

Emma Dibdin
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Town & Country

The Democratic presidential nomination was dealt a curveball this year by the coronavirus pandemic, which has made rallies and in-person campaigning a thing of the past. April brought some clarity to the race, though, as Bernie Sanders officially ended his presidential run, leaving former Vice President Joseph R Biden Jr. as the sole contender.

With Biden now the presumptive Democratic nominee, the 2020 election is beginning to come into focus–and needless to say, it'll be unlike any other election in history. With social distancing protocols now in effect across most of the country, likely to remain in place for weeks or even months, there's uncertainty surrounding every key element of the election process, from the conventions to voting processes to, of course, the debates.

There's a lot that's still uncertain, but here's what we do know so far about Donald Trump and Joe Biden's first presidential debate.

Photo credit: Sean Rayford - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sean Rayford - Getty Images

The first debate will take place in September.

The Commission on Presidential Debates will host three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate later this year. As is tradition, the debates will almost certainly be held at universities.

The first presidential debate, when the incumbent President Trump will face off against Joe Biden, will be held on Tuesday, September 29 at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. The second presidential debate was expected to take place at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Thursday, October 15, but in June, the institution withdrew from hosting the event due to health concerns amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“It is with great disappointment that I must ask for the University of Michigan to be released from its agreement with the Commission on Presidential Debates to host the Presidential Debate on Oct. 15, 2020,” Michigan’s president, Mark Schlissel, said in a statement Tuesday.

“In consideration of the public health guidelines in our state as well as advice from our own experts — we feel it is not feasible for us to safely host the presidential debate as planned.’’

A replacement location has not been announced. The final debate is set for Thursday, October 22 at Belmont University in Nashville.

Despite the change in location, all three debates are expected to begin at 9 p.m. ET, and will run for 90 minutes without any commercial breaks. No moderators have been announced as yet.

The vice presidential debate will take place in October.

The first and only debate between VP Mike Pence and Biden's as-yet-unidentified running mate is set for Wednesday, October 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Photo credit: MARK RALSTON - Getty Images
Photo credit: MARK RALSTON - Getty Images

The Democratic National Convention has been postponed to August.

Given that a total of 16 states have postponed their primaries in light of the coronavirus outbreak, it was inevitable that the Democratic National Convention would also be postponed from its usual mid-July slot. The last two primaries on the updated calendar–Kentucky and New York–will be held on June 23.

In April, the DNC confirmed that the convention had been pushed back to the week of August 17. It will take place in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as planned. “We’re going to hold a very exciting and safe convention in Wisconsin to highlight our nominee and to make sure that people know the values of the Democratic Party and what we’re fighting for,” DNC chairman Tom Perez told The New York Times.

The Republican National Convention will follow a week later, taking place during the week of August 24 in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the party is expected to renominate President Trump.

The debates may look very different from the norm.

The final Democratic primary debate, which was held March 15 in the shadow of the snowballing pandemic, offered a preview of what we can likely expect from the presidential debate. The face-off between Biden and Sanders was held without a live audience, began with an elbow bump in lieu of a handshake, and saw the candidates' podiums carefully positioned six feet apart.

There is no way to know exactly how things will look by September–much depends on how the disease continues to unfold across the US, and how long social distancing measures are kept in place. Experts have already warned that the fall could bring a resurgence of the disease following a reduction of cases through the summer, which means September could be precisely the time more strict measures are required again.

Between the logistical challenges and the sheer political upheaval that several more months of COVID-19 will have caused, it's safe to assume this will be a presidential debate unlike any other.

Photo credit: Drew Angerer - Getty Images
Photo credit: Drew Angerer - Getty Images

Trump has sent mixed messages on the subject of whether he will debate Biden.

The New York Times reported late last year that Trump had raised doubts around the debate, stating that he did not trust the Commission on Presidential Debates–a nonpartisan entity. He later wrote on Twitter that though he wanted to debate the Democratic nominee, he was concerned that the Commission was "biased" against him. "I will make a decision at an appropriate time but in the meantime, the Commission on Presidential Debates is NOT authorized to speak for me."

More recently, though, Trump has indicated that he will debate his opponent. "Yeah, sure. I look forward to it, actually," he told reporters in February, when asked.

And in June, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and Rudy Giuliana requested a fourth debate between Biden and Trump, which, if granted, would add one more to the schedule.

That said, given the President's history of inconsistent and self-contradictory messaging, there's no real way to know what he'll decide by the fall.

You Might Also Like

More From