The final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is scheduled to take place Thursday night in Nashville, Tennessee. But after the second debate was canceled after Trump pulled out, objecting to the previously agreed upon virtual format following his COVID-19 diagnosis, will this third debate actually happen?
As of this writing, everything is moving ahead according to plan, with the stage now constructed at Belmont University and all appropriate measures being taken to ensure the night goes smoothly. However, CNN notes several scenarios could bring things to a grinding halt and potentially upend the candidates' final chance to battle it out on the debate stage, though they seem less and less likely.
Among the most pressing matters is that of the coronavirus, which could again threaten the event. Speaking with ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos during a town hall last week, which aired at the same time as a competing NBC town hall with Trump, Biden said that a requirement for the debate was Trump testing negative for the virus. Asked if he would "demand that President Trump take a test" the day of the debate, Biden responded, "Yeah," adding that he has been taking coronavirus tests daily to ensure the health and safety of those around him as he campaigns. However, while Trump's physician has said he has since tested negative for the virus, it remains unclear if the president will agree to this, with Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Lea Trump, telling CNN's Jake Tapper he would "have to ask" the president "directly" if he promises to release the results of his coronavirus test before the debate.
It is also possible that one or both candidates back out of the debate due to a recent rule change. Following a meeting Monday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced in order to maintain order and allow both candidates their chance to speak during the debate, microphones for the candidates will be muted while the other candidate is speaking, an effort to bypass the constant interjections that shadowed the first debate, which had been dubbed as "chaotic."
While neither candidate has voiced this issue, the Trump campaign has voiced issues over another subject – the debate topics. In a letter to the commission, Bill Stepien, Trump's campaign manager, wrote that they "had expected that foreign policy would be the central focus of the October 22 debate" and not the list of topics that have since been released, accusing the commission of trying to "insulate Biden from his own history." The topics include fighting COVID-19, American families, race in Amercia, climate change, national security, and leadership.
Just left the White House for the Great State of Tennessee! pic.twitter.com/s2ScYMTN9l— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2020
Despite those remarks, however, it doesn't appear that this will be a breaking point for the campaign. Thursday afternoon, just after releasing his 60 Minutes interview, which he walked out on, early, the president tweeted that he had “just left the White House for the Great State of Tennessee,” signaling that he has every intention of going on with Thursday nights events. Both candidates have since landed in Nashville, according to local news station WKRN News 2, which also reports that both candidates have tested negative for the virus.
At this time, it appears that the debate will take place as scheduled. Set to be held at Belmont University, Kristen Welker of NBC News will moderate the event, which kicks off at 9 p.m. ET and is set to run until 10:30 p.m.