Traditionally, the final presidential debate questions focused on foreign policy. But on Friday, the Commission on Presidential Debates and moderator Kristen Welker of NBC spit in the eye of that precedent and decreed the final debate between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden be on a variety of topics (including climate change). And then on Monday, the commission upended things once more and announced that the microphones would be muted while candidates answered initial questions.
With their White House correspondent (with Democratic ties) Kristen Welker moderating the final date, NBC seemed to welcome the unprecedented change. “Trump and Biden’s only previous debate last month was marred by frequent interruptions from Trump, leading to calls for the debate moderator to have the ability to cut off each candidate’s microphone while their opponent spoke,” they wrote in an online article.
Explaining the purported plan for the debate, NBC reported: “President Donald Trump and Joe Biden will have their microphones cut off during Thursday’s final presidential debate while their opponent delivers initial two-minute answers to each debate topic…”
In a statement quoted by NBC, the commission said: “We realize, after discussions with both campaigns, that neither campaign may be totally satisfied with the measures announced today.”
They added: “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.” Though, there didn't seem to be any mention of who would actually have the ability to cut off the mics.
NBC also reported that the commission said that microphones would remain on during the “open-discussion segments of the debate.”
The commission’s decision was celebrated by CNN’s Don Lemon during Monday’s CNN Tonight:
This is our breaking news right now. There is a big change in the rules for Thursday's schedule final debate. You want to hear about them? Well, here's what is going to happen. Each candidate's mic will be cut off while his rival delivers his two-minute opening answer to each debate topic. Interesting, right? It's an effort to prevent the chaos of the first debate so you can learn something. Remember how that went?
“Oh, how embarrassing. Learned nothing from that. Right,” Lemon declared after playing soundbites from the first debate.
Following their first presidential debate, Welker’s network bashed the President for creating a “brawl,” “crazy,” “hot mess,” and “train wreck,” as reported by NewsBusters’s Curtis Houck at the time. NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt also suggested it was “a low point in American political discourse,” and “music to your ears” to learn it was over.
And for CNN’s part, The Lead host Jake Tapper ruled it “a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck,” while chief political correspondent Dana Bash went into the gutter and proclaimed it “a shit show.”