Three weeks ago, former Vice President Joe Biden and President Trump argued, yelled at, and interrupted each other with abandon on the national stage in the first presidential debate of 2020. The verbal sparring match was nightmarish — filled with interjections, nonsensical statements, and a refusal to denounce white supremacy.
Perhaps for the best, the second presidential debate, which was scheduled to occur Oct. 15, was canceled amid Trump's coronavirus diagnosis and turned into two dueling town halls instead. Now, the candidates are set to square off once again in a presidential debate this Thursday — but this time, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which negotiates debate rules, has announced that the candidates' microphones will be muted while their opponent answers the moderator's question.
This Thursday's debate will be organized similarly to the first, comprised of six debate topics ranging from concrete issues like the coronavirus crisis to amorphous buzzwords like "leadership." However, unlike the first debate, so-called "uninterrupted time" to answer questions really will mean uninterrupted. Moderator Kristen Welker, NBC News's White House correspondent, will provide each candidate two minutes to respond to her questions, and during those two minutes, the opposing candidate's microphone will be muted in an attempt to keep the debate civil. After each man has responded to the initial question, they're free to interrupt one another at will during the "open discussion portion."
Trump's erratic and aggressive debate style during the first debate, coupled with a moderator in Fox News's Chris Wallace who struggled to uphold the agreed-upon CPD rules, overshadowed the questions on voters' minds during the 90-minute event. Though muting the mics is a step in a more presidential direction — and was a suggestion all over Twitter during last month's mess — it's unclear how exactly it will work out or how chaotic things will get once they're free to go at each other after the initial bout of civility.
Unsurprisingly, the Trump campaign wasn't keen to engage with the new debate framework, per PBS. According to PBS, Trump's campaign manager Bill Stepien referred to the non-partisan CPD as "biased" and said that the "last-minute" rule changes constituted an "attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate." Even still, the president has agreed to attend this Thursday's debate, which is notable in itself given that he blew up last week's scheduled event after the CPD said it would be conducted virtually.
If anything, though, the "last-minute" rule changes are an attempt to provide an advantage to the American voter, who in watching the first presidential debate came away not having learned much at all about their candidates for the highest office in the land.