At the next debate, candidates’ microphones will be muted when it isn’t their turn to talk, and it’s about time
We’re just a few days away from the second (and final) presidential debate, and what a wild ride it’s been so far. The first meeting between Donald Trump and Joe Biden was a disaster no matter who you ask. The president steamrolled over his opponent. He steamrolled over the moderator. He interrupted and mocked and made faces and the result was a spectacle that voters pretty overwhelmingly felt didn’t do them any favors.
And now, after Trump skipped the second debate when the safety rules surrounding his recent coronavirus infection didn’t suit him, the bipartisan commission has released new information for the final showdown before the election, aimed to make the meeting between the two candidates more fair so that it actually helps voters. They will now mute candidates’ microphones at certain points when it isn’t their turn to talk, and all we can say is finally.
The format this time will be similar to the format of the first debate last month. Each candidate will be given two minutes to make an opening statement answering the moderator’s question, then two minutes to respond to their opponent. During this time, the candidate who isn’t supposed to be speaking will be on mute. Once the responses are over and free debate begins, both mics will stay on. The moderator won’t have any control over the microphones — switching them on and off will be the job of a production crew behind the scenes.
From the Commission’s letter, it sounds like they anticipated possible pushback and got ahead of it. “We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today,” the statement read. “One may think they go too far, and one may think they do not go far enough. We are comfortable that these actions strike the right balance and that they are in the interest of the American people, for whom these debates are held.”
A source tells CNN, “this is not a change to rules but rather a move to promote adherence to rules that have been agreed to by both campaigns,” they said. “A change to the rules would have required protracted and ultimately, in our view, unworkable negotiations between the two campaigns.”
The question now is whether the rule change will prompt Trump to throw another tantrum and refuse (again) to participate. Before the microphone rule was even announced, his campaign sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates complaining about a wide number of issues. The campaign didn’t like that the debate will cover six topics chosen by the moderator, even though both campaigns agreed to the format months ago. And the letter stated that it would be “completely unacceptable” for “an unnamed person” to be able to shut off a candidate’s microphone.
That letter made it sound like the Trump campaign was making a case in advance for the president to pull out of the final debate, but speaking to reporters late Monday night, after the microphone rule was announced, he confirmed he would take part this time.
“I just think it is very unfair,” he said. “It is very unfair that again we have an anchor who is totally biased. I’ll participate, I just think it is very unfair.”