WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump and aides said Thursday they do not want any rules changes to the next two debates with Joe Biden and suggested they may bow out if the Commission on Presidential Debates insists on new rules to reduce interruptions and excessive talking.
Senior adviser Jason Miller said the two campaigns agreed to a set of rules before debate season began.
“We do not want any changes,” he said.
The campaign forcefully pushed back against the possible changes just hours after Trump tweeted his opposition to new rules and the White House declined to say unequivocally whether he would participate in the next debate, scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami.
“Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?” Trump wrote on Twitter. He also said he felt like he was debating two people, Biden and moderator Chris Wallace.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that Trump thinks “the only way there’s a fair debate is a change in the moderator and a change in the Democrat nominee.”
“He wants to debate,” McEnany said. “He plans on being at the debate. But he wants the rules to be fair and wants a fair exchange and doesn’t want rules that cover for a certain candidate’s inability to perform well.”
The commission announced Wednesday it will consider changes to the rules for the two remaining encounters between the presidential candidates after their first debate in Cleveland on Tuesday was dominated by interruptions and over-the-top rhetorical attacks, mostly by Trump on Biden and Wallace.
Shortly after Trump’s tweet, the campaign arranged a conference call with reporters to echo the president’s implied threat of a boycott if the commission insists on rule changes.
Miller said Trump plans on “participating in and winning” the second and third debates with Biden, but made clear he does not expect any rule changes.
“There should not be any changes,” Miller said.
Campaign manager Bill Stepien slammed Biden as a “creature” of the Washington, D.C., establishment, and said “that’s exactly who runs this commission.”
Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates fired back and said Biden’s team is “running our campaign, not running the debates.”
“Our position is clear: we will participate under the (commission’s) rules,” he said. “The only real question left is whether the president will start following the rules in the next two debates.”
Democrats pointed out that Trump violated existing rules with his constant interruptions and talking over Biden and Wallace.
Despite their insistence that the rules should not be changed for the next two debates, Trump and his aides sought rules changes before the candidates’ first face-off.