When President Trump picked someone to conduct his first on-camera interview since testing positive for the coronavirus, he made the safest of choices: Dr. Marc Siegel, a physician and Fox News personality who has criticized Democratic governors for closing down schools and businesses to fight the pandemic.
At the most politically and physically vulnerable point of his presidency, Mr. Trump has retreated to his safe space: conservative media programs, where he can rely on warm, ego-boosting chats with supporters like Maria Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.
In these cozy surroundings — his primary way of communicating with the public as he shuns interviews with most other journalists — Mr. Trump has only himself to fear: There is virtually no risk that he will encounter a persistent questioner pressing an uncomfortable topic, or that he will appear as defensive or unruly as he did during the first presidential debate.
But his decision to remain within a right-wing echo chamber has threatened to shut off Mr. Trump from a much larger — and electorally important — audience of potential voters and political independents whose votes he will need if he is to win the election in just over three weeks.
The president’s refusal to participate in the now-canceled second presidential debate because organizers shifted it to an all-virtual event amounted to walking away from a TV viewership of close to 70 million viewers, baffling political media experts. And while Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Hannity command the biggest audiences in their respective fields, their programs have nowhere near the reach of a debate that airs on a dozen broadcast and cable networks simultaneously.
“Trump should want 10 more debates right now,” Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has overseen communications strategy on Senate and presidential campaigns, said in an interview.
With Mr. Trump trailing in almost every poll of battleground states, Mr. Conant said, the president’s demands that the debate be held on his terms “was very much an emotional response, instead of a strategic one.”