US Election 2020

US Elections 2020 Vice Presidential debate: when is it and how does the Trump positive affect it?

With less than a month left before America goes to the polls, the President's hospitalisation could shape the remainder of the campaign.

US Elections 2020 Vice Presidential debate: when is it and how does the Trump positive affect it?
MANDEL NGAN AFP

The Vice Presidential debate for the 2020 American general election will go ahead despite the hospitalisation of Donald Trump after testing positive for Covid-19. The President's running mate, Mike Pence, has tested negative for coronavirus and will face Kamala Harris in Salt Lake City, Utah this Thursday.

Vice President Pence was a radio talk-show host in the late 1990s and boasts a wealth of media experience that the Trump campaign will hope can turn the tide of this election in their favour. In 2016, Pence performed well in a scattergun debate with Tim Kaine as his measured and calm persona provided a counterbalance to Trump’s more emotive approach.

Biden demands new Covid-19 rules

The chaotic Presidential debate between the two candidates last week was conducted with each spaced seven feet apart on the stage but that will be upped to 12 feet this time around. The Biden campaign made a demand for greater safety precautions in the aftermath of the President’s positive test and the Commission on Presidential Debates agreed to tighten the social distancing rules.

The Trump campaign drew criticism following last week’s debate after it was revealed that a number of the President’s entourage and family members refused to wear a mask. Last week's moderator Chris Wallace has also claimed that the Trump team did not arrive until Tuesday afternoon so there was no time for them to be tested.

There was already some concern from the Biden team that adequate social distancing was not being followed but that swelled with the news of a number of positive tests stemming from the debate. The Cleveland city government has confirmed that at least 11 cases of coronavirus have been linked to the first Presidential debate, the majority of whom had come from out of state.

Trump’s condition brings new focus on Vice Presidential debates

The Vice Presidential debate is usually something of a side-note to the campaign which rarely has a substantive effect on the outcome. However the hospitalisation of the sitting President has brought new importance to proceedings. If Donald Trump is incapacitated and no long able to fulfil his duties, Pence would take over his Presidential responsibilities.

Both Trump and Biden, 74- and 77-years-old respectively, would become the oldest President in American history by the end of their presidency if they were to win on 3 November which brings greater significance to the role of Vice President.

Eight previous Presidents have died while in office and the current succession rules dictate that their running mate would assume the role for the rest of the term. Given that Covid-19 is known to have much greater mortality rates amongst those over 65, it could be a real factor in the minds of voters.

Both Pence and Harris know that they will need to show that they would be able to provide a viable alternative if either candidate was to suffer an extended period of ill-health while in the White House.