Debate commission: Last night's sh*tshow proved that the remaining debates will require "additional structure"; Update: Cutting mics?

This has the feel of a letter to mom and dad from the principal about their hyperactive child. “Billy is a bright boy and means well, but in light of the classroom disruptions caused by his ADHD we believe he would benefit from some … additional structure.”


All I can think is that they’re going to cut each candidate’s mic when the other is speaking to prevent interruptions. What else could they do, realistically?

I suppose they could chop the next debate into blocs and have only one candidate onstage at a time. For instance, Trump would come out and do 10 minutes of Q&A with voters at the townhall debate about COVID, then Biden would come out and do 10 minutes on another COVID-related subject. Then Trump would come out for 10 on the next topic, etc. But that’s not really a debate. If the candidates are unable to interact then you might as well scrap the debates entirely and hold individual events with each. Trump gets an hour-long townhall hosted by the commission, then Biden gets one.

But we already sort of did that a few weeks ago. What would be the point?

Gotta do something, though. According to WaPo’s analysis, there were 93 interruptions last night, an average of nearly one per minute. Trump was responsible for 71 of them.

Should Biden just walk away? Top Democrats today are saying … no:

“The American people saw what Donald Trump is all about and sometimes people just see clips on the news of his rallies. And I think it’s important for them to see that. So yes, I think that he should continue doing these debates,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who ran against Biden in the party’s presidential primary…

“Anybody who watched the debate, who watched the way that Donald Trump behaved, has to be worried about him, worried about our country,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who served with Biden in the Senate. “I would do the next two, but I would make sure we have a moderator who has a firm command and control of the debate.”…

Biden “has to show that he’s not afraid of standing up to a bully,” said Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Senate Democrats. “The more that people see the president in the form he was last night, the less support he has.”


Unless Team Biden really, truly does fear that their guy might have a “senior moment” onstage that’s so disturbing it’ll cause him to lose votes, there’s no downside to doing the debates. Trump is more likely to damage his own cause than he is to damage Biden’s.

FiveThirtyEight polled debate-watchers last night after it ended and found a tiny bit of movement towards Biden afterwards. Beforehand, on a scale of one to 10, the panel gave Biden an average of 5.0 when asked how likely they were to vote for him while Trump drew 3.8. After the debate, the numbers moved to 5.2 and 3.7, respectively. Not a dramatic change, but further evidence that Trump’s best shot at a campaign gamechanger didn’t change the game. And this speaks for itself:

You can treat the debate commission’s announcement today as good news for Trump in light of that data. Maybe the “additional structure” will restrain him from indulging the impulse to interrupt that alienated people last night. A debate where he’s forced by the rules to perform like a more traditional candidate will probably help him.

Ed has a post coming up on the debate ratings last night, which weren’t stellar. Please read it, as he has an interesting take on why voters might be less interested in watching this year. I won’t spoil his theory by describing but I will offer my own: It may be that most people simply made up their minds about the race long ago and don’t want to devote any more time to gathering information. The most amazing fact about the polling in the most tumultuous year in decades is that it’s been freakishly stable even though everything else about American life hasn’t been. Sometimes Biden has led by five points, sometimes by nine, sometimes by seven, but no matter what insane new calamity befalls the country, it never shifts all that much and there are never all that many undecided voters. The same goes for Trump’s job approval, which hasn’t moved all that much for nearly three years. Sometimes it’s 43, sometimes it’s 47, sometimes it’s 45.


I think the debate ratings may be a simple reflection of the fact that the election is being treated by voters as a referendum on Trump and nearly everyone reached their personal verdict on him long ago. You might watch the debates out of curiosity but you’re not watching them because you’re having trouble deciding. And if your mind’s made up and the spectacle of combat doesn’t interest you, especially since the novelty of the Trump show has worn off since 2016, why waste 90 minutes? If that’s why people tuned out last night then maybe we’ve all overestimated the public’s interest in seeing firsthand whether Sleepy Joe would have a “sleepy” moment onstage. Last night was America’s clearest opportunity of the race to see a true choice before them instead of a referendum on the president — and a lot of people weren’t interested. Why?

Update: The next debate might bring us the first case in history of the president’s mic being cut at a public event.

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