The Trump campaign is throwing accusations at the wall ahead of the Tuesday night debate.
Donald Trump has made an odd request for an amendment to presidential debate rules: that third-party inspectors examine both of Joe Biden's ears for electronic devices.
In a Tuesday statement, Trump's 2020 communications director Tim Murtaugh claimed that "Joe Biden's handlers" initially agreed to a pre-debate inspection for electronic earpieces but "today abruptly reversed themselves and declined."
He added that Biden's team has asked for breaks during the debate, but Trump's team has rejected this request because "Trump doesn't need [them]."
"On top of the refusal to take a drug test, it seems pretty obvious that the Biden team is looking for any safety net they can find in the hours leading up to the debate," Murtaugh said. "With his 47 years as a failed politician, how much help does Biden want?"
But other sources indicate the Trump campaign is fearful of a debate loss and merely throwing accusations at the wall to see what sticks.
Elizabeth Landers, Washington, D.C., correspondent for Vice News, tweeted a screenshot Monday of a list of talking points urging the Trump campaign not to underestimate Biden's debating abilities.
"A source confirms that the Trump campaign's congressional liaison is sending along these talking points to Republican allies, basically saying DON'T downplay Biden's abilities in a debate," Landers tweeted.
The list notes that Biden has run for president three times, and has participated in two vice-presidential debates and 11 Democratic primary debates. It also refers to him as a "career politician" and suggests that his recently lightened campaign schedule indicates he's been shoring up for extensive debate preparation.
The GOP has long used allegations of cheating during presidential debates as a red herring to deflect from a Republican candidate's poor debate performance.
Conservative media went wild with accusations of Hillary Clinton supposedly donning an earpiece for a 2016 presidential debate. The Drudge Report and InfoWars both published pieces alleging Clinton was wearing an electronic device of some kind during a debate.
And it was none other than Donald Trump Jr. who amplified the spread of the conspiracy theory by retweeting the InfoWars story.
During the 2012 election, viral chain emails circulated accusing former President Barack Obama of wearing an earpiece while debating Mitt Romney, with no proof offered beyond a grainy photo showing what appears to be a shadow over his ear and a near-invisible bump in his jacket.
"President Obama was wearing an earpiece during the last debate," the debunked email's text read. "He was advised on what to say using this earpiece. Is this fair, America?? ... This president will stop at nothing to stay in power."
In 2008, American law professor and blogger Ann Althouse similarly accused Obama of potentially wearing an earpiece during his debates against Mitt Romney. She initially claimed it looked like a "crescent of clear plastic." After some pushback, Althouse backpedaled on her claims.
But, she cautioned, just because what she thought was an earpiece wasn't, in fact, an earpiece, doesn't mean Obama wasn't wearing some other earpiece.
"Just because the thing I saw wasn't there doesn't mean there wasn't something there I didn't see," Althouse said.
Even Republican candidates are not immune to this kind of unsubstantiated speculation surrounding presidential debates. Former President George W. Bush was widely accused of wearing an electronic assistive device during the 2004 presidential debates, chalking his bulge up to a "poor tailored suit."
Robert Nelson, a senior research scientist for NASA, went so far as to analyze the debate footage for a week and claimed Bush's jacket bulge was consistent with an electrical device requiring a wire or a tube snaking up his back.
"I am willing to stake my scientific reputation to the statement that Bush was wearing something in his jacket during the debate," Nelson told Salon in a 2004 interview. "This is not about a bad suit. And there's no way the bulge can be described as a wrinkled shirt."
The upshot is this: Presidential debate cheating accusations are as old as presidential debates themselves. And the Trump campaign seems ready to write off any debate loss as foul play.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.