Are we over it yet? By “it” we mean the night that should have come with trigger warnings, and which spawned countless memes and t-shirts with “Will you shut up, man?” on them. If the answer is “no” you might take a bit of heart in knowing that the Commission on Presidential Debates has responded to what CNN’s Jake Tapper called “the hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck” by announcing that it will be making changes to the debate format. CBS reports one of the changes the commission is considering is a mute button which cuts off either President Donald Trump or his challenger, Joe Biden, if they break the rules. The group has also said that while it might be working on “all possible solutions,” one thing is clear: A source from the commission says “we are going to be making changes.”
This talk isn’t sitting well with Team Trump, who are claiming that both sides already agreed to a set of rules before the debates kicked off. A senior adviser to the presidential campaign, Jason Miller, said, “We do not want any changes to what has been laid out and already been agreed to for the second and third debates. We have not asked for any changes. The Biden camp has.” While Trump has the option of boycotting the debates if the procedures are changed, Miller says he “fully plans on participating” (via The Washington Post).
Trump can boycott the debate if he doesn't like the changes
To be clear, because the commission is independent, it can determine the rules without getting approval from either side, so Trump can either accept the changes or he can boycott the debates (via The Washington Post). The Biden campaign has already promised to stick by the debate playbook as set by the commission. Spokesman Andrew Bates said, “Our position is clear: we will participate under the (commission’s) rules. The only real question left is whether the president will start following the rules in the next two debates” (via USA Today).
The second debate is being held under a different format and will take place in Miami on October 15. It will feature undecided voters who will be able to ask questions, which could change the dynamic. Trump campaign officials say the Biden team wants to see changes that will allow moderators to mute the candidates’ microphones, adding opening and closing statements, and limiting the “free discussion” period.
Trump bears the responsibility for what happened: Chris Wallace
The Commission will likely be looking to head off the kind of interruptions we saw on Tuesday night. Speaking on his own network, Fox News, moderator Chris Wallace said he originally thought the interruptions were a good sign that a healthy debate was just around the corner. But, he said, “It became clearer and clearer, over time, that this was something different, and that the president was determined to try to butt in and throw Joe Biden off” (via USA Today).
Given the number of times Trump cut in as Biden spoke, Wallace put the burden of responsibility for taking the September 29 debate someplace no one could have predicted on the president’s shoulders, saying, “He bears the primary responsibility for what happened on Tuesday night. It was only 45 minutes in that I realized what just a total mess and disservice this was to the country and to try to stop it. Do I wish I had stepped in earlier? Yes, but, as I say, hindsight is 20/20.”
Wallace can probably take heart in knowing that fewer of us might have been exposed to the September 29 event than we thought. The televised debate attracted 73.13 million viewers — a ways behind the 84 million record set during the 2016 Trump-Clinton debate, with Fox News chalking up the biggest number of viewers (via The Hollywood Reporter).
Trump wants the rules to be fair: Kayleigh McEnany
The president has taken to Twitter, making it clear we will not move forward with any changes, writing, “Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?” to which one of his Twitter fans responded: “Because like everything evolving a Democrat. They have to change the rules i.e. cheat to even have a chance. Maybe they need to add rule the one has to answer a question instead of dancing around it. Joe never answered 1. He did lie on all though.” Another said: “Because Democrats can’t win anything without cheating, their end goal is to cancel the remaining debates. #MAGA”
The Washington Post reports that “President Trump and his top aides signaled Thursday that they would reject any changes to the presidential debate format,” which only leave one option: a boycott.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, “[Trump] wants to debate. He plans on being at the debate. But he wants the rules to be fair and wants a fair exchange and doesn’t want rules that cover for a certain candidate’s inability to perform well.” She also added that “the only way there’s a fair debate is a change in the moderator and a change in the Democrat nominee” (via USA Today).
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