A moment with the potential to become a media spectacle might not happen at all. The Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton parties will not greet each other and exchange handshakes before the final debate in Las Vegas, as they have prior to the other two, according to a New York Times report.
Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, indicated in an interview on CNN Wednesday that a final decision had not been made but did not dispute the Times’s report that Clinton’s campaign was concerned about the possibility of an embarrassing episode.
“If I had my druthers, I would say you should — in the best interest of the American people and comity — go out and shake hands,” Fahrenkopf said. “But I don’t dictate that. They have the right to do what they want to do.”
— Carol Costello (@CarolCNN) October 19, 2016
Fahrenkopf declined to say what worried the Clinton camp, but the fear seems obvious: The Washington Post’s Robert Costa, Dan Balz and Philip Rucker reported after the last debate that Trump’s team had planned to send out three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault for the pre-debate handshakes. Bill Clinton would have had to greet the women, Juanita Broaddrick, Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey, face to face — a dramatic scene, to say the least.
The debate commission vetoed the idea, but it was not certain that the Trump campaign would abide by its decision. Indeed, Trump adviser Rudolph W. Giuliani told The Post that campaign chief executive Steve Bannon had pushed to defy the commission’s order until a few minutes before the event started.
Thus, a simple ritual now seems risky for the Clintons. Even if the commission were to restrict the handshake line to family members only, there is no guarantee that Trump would respect the rule, given how close he came to breaking it last time. Plus, Trump is going into the final debate with a “burn it down strategy,” according to Breitbart News, the billionaire’s unofficial media mouthpiece. A handshake stunt would be a pretty good way to start a fire.
According to the Times, the Clinton campaign “has apparently gained approval of a different protocol for the entry of the candidates’ spouses and families into the debate hall. The new arrangement calls for the candidates’ spouses to enter the hall closer to their seats, rather than crossing the room, and each other’s paths.”
There could still be some handshake intrigue, however. Clinton and Trump did not shake each other’s hands before the last debate, stunning many journalists. Everyone will be watching to see what they do this time.