Political entertainment – the weaving of politics and TV-style dramatics, whether intended or not – could move to heretofore unseen levels when President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden meet Thursday for their final head-to-head debate.
Drama could be high because of the announcement Monday that the Presidential Debate Commission plans to turn off a candidate’s microphone during the two minutes that his opponent will be answering questions.
The debate, to be held in Nashville, Tenn., begins at 8 p.m. (central time) Thursday and will last 90 minutes. It will be moderated by NBC News journalist Kristen Welker.
The commission already has announced the topics: COVID-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.
The new rule likely will add an entertaining wrinkle. Hopefully, it instead fulfills its intent – that is, to keep order – rather than simply heaping more intrigue and mayhem into this final opportunity for voters to hear the candidates in a head-to-head discussion.
It’s a necessary rule and perhaps one that doesn’t go far enough. As described by the Presidential Debate Commission, microphones will be muted only while the other candidate directly answers a question from the moderator. It appears mics won’t be cut at other tenuous times – when their answers outlast the two-minute limit, for example.
Nonetheless, it’s progress. Many who watched the first Trump-Biden debate were disgusted by its digression into a verbal melee, with interruptions and name-calling by the candidates and unsuccessful attempts to regain order by moderator Chris Wallace, who at one point openly showed regret for raising his voice.
“But,” Wallace quipped, “why should I be any different than the two of you.”
Earlier this month, the Herald offered its opinion on the first Trump-Biden debate, saying “anyone who feels last week’s debacle was an actual debate simply does not understand the process or the intended goals and outcomes of civilized, gentlemanly debates.”
A debate’s real intent?
“To provide the electorate an opportunity to hear each candidate’s vision, with clarifications that naturally come via face-to-face dialogue,” we wrote.
Or, as Wallace said prior to the presidential debate, the purpose is to “give people at home a sense of ‘why I want to vote for one versus the other.’”
Instead, the last debate became a historic event for its lack of order, especially since Biden and Trump both agreed in advance to the rules that were in effect.
As the election nears, this final debate is important, since voters who have not yet cast their ballots – some 27 million Americans already have voted, according to various sources – may be waiting for one last look at the candidates before making their decision.
What they’ll see Thursday could sway them. Approximately 43 million viewers watched the last debate, and it’s likely that number will be surpassed during Thursday’s rematch.
We’re hoping for civility and useful dialogue. Perhaps the new rule that will mute an offending candidate’s microphone will help, although it probably will only add to the drama.
No matter what, it could be political entertainment at its apogee.