Will Muting Trump and Biden Save the Presidential Debates?

tags: presidential debates, 2020 Election

Tizoc Chavez is the author of a book on presidential diplomacy, to be published with the University Press of Kansas in 2021.

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) recently announced a change for Thursday’s meeting between President Trump and Joe Biden: the microphones of each candidate will be muted for portions of the debate, allowing each candidate to have two minutes to speak uninterrupted at the beginning of each 15-minute segment. This is a response to the chaotic first Trump-Biden clash, which quickly devolved into 90 minutes of cross-talk, interruptions and insults.

Trump previously said he would reject any rule changes. And he refused to participate in the second scheduled debate last week after the CPD decided on a virtual event in response to the president testing positive for the coronavirus. But in a news release, the president’s campaign manager said Trump would participate “regardless of last minute rule changes from the biased commission.”

Presidential candidates are under no obligation to participate in these media events. But Americans have become accustomed to the quadrennial spectacle of having White House hopefuls meet face-to-face to wrestle with the pressing issues of the day. But as the first Trump-Biden debate illustrated, this American political tradition has morphed from a ritual of civic education to one of chaos and confusion.


Thus, educating voters is in the DNA of presidential debates. And the ability to have political rivals engage in open discussion before the public has been a powerful symbol of American democracy. Yet, it has also been a ritual defined by a battle for the best sound bites, precooked zingers and a focus on gaffes. From the beginning, the medium of television meant style and image often dominated rather than substance.

This duality presents a dilemma. Politics is a form of theater, and voters desire a skillful performer. But they also want serious, knowledgeable candidates. Televised debates are valuable in part because they provide a platform for candidates to show Americans both their style and substance. But most candidates struggle to balance both. Over the years, style has increasingly dominated, depriving voters of the opportunity to use debates to help make a more informed decision.

Read entire article at Made by History at The Washington Post

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