U.S. President Donald Trump signaled Thursday that he was opposed to changing the rules for his second and third debates against Democratic challenger Joe Biden, claiming he “easily” won their contentious, chaotic first debate earlier this week.
Both candidates frequently interrupted each other’s remarks at Tuesday’s 90-plus minute debate, but Trump more so than Biden.
More than an hour into the debate, moderator Chris Wallace, a Fox News journalist, admonished the president for ignoring the agreed-upon rules allowing both candidates to answer his questions unimpeded by the other.
But the interruptions continued to the end, leaving numerous journalists and U.S. political analysts to conclude that it was the worst presidential debate ever. Despite Trump’s claim, post-debate polls showed voters thought Biden won the faceoff.
But the chaos of the night led the independent Commission on Presidential Debates, which oversees the quadrennial debates, to say Wednesday that it would soon announce tightened rules for the scheduled Trump-Biden debates on October 15 and 22 to give the events “additional structure … to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.”
But Trump said on Twitter, “Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?”
Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third Debates when I easily won last time?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2020
Biden has not objected to the format but called Trump’s performance “a national embarrassment.”
A new Politico/Morning Consult poll said half of those it polled who had watched the debate said Biden performed best, with 34% saying Trump was better and 16% saying they did not know or had no opinion. Other polls also favored Biden’s performance.
Some critics said the moderators at the next two debates should be able to silence the microphone of each candidate while the other is speaking. But Wallace told The New York Times he was opposed to the idea, saying it would not succeed at reducing the disruptions. Other analysts said any interruptions could still likely be picked up on the live microphone or heard by those in the debate hall.
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel told Fox News that the commission should not make any changes to the rules without the support of both campaigns “in the middle of the campaign,” after both sides had agreed to specific provisions.
Each candidate was supposed to have two minutes to answer Wallace’s queries before the other had the same amount of time to respond. But the interruptions quickly threw that restriction off-kilter, turning the debate into a mix of crosstalk and claims and counterclaims on a range of issues, such as Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his appointment of a new Supreme Court justice and his tax returns and Biden’s stances on health care, climate change and increasing taxes on businesses and wealthy taxpayers.
McDaniel claimed that any rule changes would be aimed at protecting Biden “from answering to the American people,” although both candidates answered numerous questions from Wallace.
"I don't think you should be changing the rules that they have agreed to, and I do not think this commission has the right to just arbitrarily change rules without talking to both candidates and getting agreement and input from both sides,” McDaniel said.
In his post-mortem on the debate, Wallace said the debate was “a terrible missed opportunity” for American voters to learn about the two candidates’ views.
“I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did,” he said.
“I’ve read some of the reviews,” he told the Times. “I know people think, well, gee, I didn’t jump in soon enough.”
“I guess I didn’t realize – and there was no way you could, hindsight being 20/20 – that this was going to be the president’s strategy, not just for the beginning of the debate but the entire debate,” to interrupt Biden’s remarks.