UPDATE (Oct. 8, 2020, 12:45 p.m.): President Trump has now agreed to participate in an in-person presidential debate on Oct. 22, an idea that the Biden campaign had initially proposed after Trump said he would not participate in the virtual debate scheduled for Oct. 15. The third presidential debate will take place Oct. 29, according to Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien.
Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
sarah (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): On Thursday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that next week’s presidential debate would be held virtually. President Trump, however, has said that he isn’t going to waste his time with a virtual debate, promising instead to hold a rally.
Trump is down 9.8 points in national polls and is steadily losing ground each day in our forecast to Biden, as we inch ever closer to the election. Refusing then to participate in the debate when he could use it as an opportunity to mount a comeback against former vice president Joe Biden is a curious choice. Doesn’t Trump need the debates to mount a comeback?
Let’s talk Trump’s case for — and the case against — needing the debates.
OK, what’s the case for him needing them?
geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): He needs something. #analysis
But seriously, the debates are among the few, regularly scheduled major moments in the fall campaign, so they do present an opportunity to shake things up, even if they’re not certain to do so.
natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): To a first approximation, I agree with that, although it’s overstated. Our research on primary debates suggested that a debate is equivalent to something like six to 10 days of normal campaigning and news, in terms of how much they move the polls. So it’s as if Trump is taking a week off the clock in an election in which he trails by 10 points.
With that said, maybe this ups the importance of the third debate — if there is one.
geoffrey.skelley: But we also can’t know given Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis whetherif Trump is really up for a two-hour debate right now, so perhaps he’s avoiding something that could be even more damaging.
sarah: One thing we talked about a lot going into the first presidential debate, is how much that first debate (more than the others) can really shake things up, but as former FiveThirtyEighter Harry Enten has also written, the second debate is not necessarily a game changer, and there’s no reason to believe that the person who didn’t do well in the first debate rebounds in the second.
Isn’t it possible then, that Trump, holding his own rally in which he doesn’t have to play by any moderator rules, isn’t necessarily a terrible move?