The final presidential debate will have a game-changing new rule

If you, like the rest of us, have been living in dread over the Thursday night gladiator arena spectacle that is meant to be the final presidential debate of the 2020 election season, have we got news for you. After the first debate, which Jake Tapper described as “a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck,” the Commission on Presidential Debates says it will have the candidates’ microphones cut so speakers have a chance to finish what it is they had to say (via CNBC). 

The commission, which organizes the debates, says it reached the decision after it had “considered the opinion of many who expressed concern the debate fell short of expectations, depriving voters of the opportunity to be informed of the candidates’ positions on the issues.” As a result, “the only candidate whose microphone will be open during these two-minute periods is the candidate who has the floor under the rules.” The commission also said in a statement, “It is the hope of the Commission that the candidates will be respectful of each other’s time, which will advance civil discourse for the benefit of the viewing public.”

There were calls for a mute microphone after the first debate

Calls for muted mics came up after the first debate, which saw President Donald Trump interrupt his rival Joe Biden in what Fast Company said was a flagrant violation of formal debate rules. Fast Company writer Joe Berkowitz argued though that cutting a mic “doesn’t mean cutting one’s vocal cords,” and explained how a muted mic could actually give the opportunity for one party to heckle another without actually being heard. This would make the other candidate look like he was being “rattled by phantom voices.”

Chris Wallace, who moderated the first debate and whose performance was highly criticized, is also against the idea of muted mics. He told The New York Times, “As a practical matter, even if the president’s microphone had been shut, he still could have continued to interrupt, and it might well have been picked up on Biden’s microphone, and it still would have disrupted the proceedings in the hall.” Wallace added, “People have to remember, and too many people forget, both of these candidates h.”e the support of tens of millions of Americans,”

Trump's campaign has already objected to the debate's topics

The president’s campaign office has yet to react to the new rule change. They’ve already called on the Commission on Presidential Debates to change the topics which were announced by the moderator, NBC reporter Kristen Welker. In a letter made public by Campaign Manager Bill Stepien on Twitter, Trump’s team expressed what it called  “great concern over the announced topics for what was always billed as the ‘Foreign Policy Debate.'” It said that while the topics — Fighting COVID-19, American Families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership were “worthy of discussion… only a few of them even touch on foreign policy,” and that they had already been dealt with during the first debate.

It added, “We understand that Joe Biden is desperate to avoid conversations about his own policy record, especially since President Trump has secured historic peace agreements among Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. The letter continued, “Sadly, this is not the first time the Commission has ceded to the wishes of the Biden campaign,” and added that “the Commission’s pro-Biden antics have turned the debate season into a fiasco.”

Trump's campaign was unhappy with a previous proposal to mute microphones

Stepien also touches on what was then still just a proposal to mute the candidates’ microphones — and even then said, “It was completely unacceptable for anyone to wield such power, and a decision to proceed with that change amounts to turning further editorial control of the debate over to the Commission, which has already demonstrated its partiality to Biden” (via Twitter).

Trump famously pulled out of the second debate when the commission had said it would be virtually held, and instead appeared at a town hall with anchor Savannah Guthrie, whose performance, unlike Chris Wallace, was lauded by many. So will the president show up to this Thursday’s event, or will he, as he did last week, sit this one out in favor of another TV appearance? 

Update: Reuters reports Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien has stated, “President Trump is committed to debating Joe Biden regardless of last-minute rule changes from the biased commission in their latest attempt to provide advantage to their favored candidate.” It looks like the show will go on after all. 

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