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Commission on Presidential Debates Says They’ll Change Their Format, Having Apparently Just Now Realized There’s a Problem

Donald Trump gestures during the presidential debate.

The Commission on Presidential Debates appears to have thought Tuesday night’s debate was as much of a train wreck as the rest of us and says they’re planning to make some changes to the structure of these debates moving forward.

“Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues,” reads a statement from the commission. “The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.”

This debate was absolutely plagued by Donald Trump’s constant petulant interruptions, both of Joe Biden and of moderator Chris Wallace, but while the most recent debate might have taken things to the extreme, nothing that happened there was a new problem. The presidential debate structure has always been terrible. In the primaries and the generals, everyone talks over each other, and there’s little chance for candidates to actually engage in conversation about the issues, making “debates” little more than an opportunity to repeat sound bites from their stump speeches in front of a larger audience.

It’s not clear yet exactly what changes the CPD plans to make, although there is word that they are considering finally controlling candidates’ microphones, implementing the ability to mute them when it’s not their turn to speak. Why that has not already been a thing is a giant mystery.

It would also be nice if the commission would put in some sort guidelines about getting candidates to actually answer the question issued to them, and to challenge them on dangerous or otherwise incendiary and unsubstantiated statements. At Tuesday’s debate, Trump got only the mildest of pushback when he refused to condemn white supremacy and when he baselessly claimed rampant voter fraud and Democratic corruption in Pennsylvania. In both cases (and others), Wallace tepidly asked him to follow up but allowed Trump to have the last word.

It doesn’t sound like the CPD will be doing that, though, as they have praised Wallace’s performance. Wallace, meanwhile, is still wondering what went wrong, saying he “never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did.”

He told the New York Times: “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.”

I legitimately don’t even know how that’s possible! The kind of interrupting, rambling, and gaslighting Trump engaged in on Tuesday has always been his strategy. It’s basically his only strategy!

I guess it’s good that the Fox News host, like the CPD, finally realized there’s a problem in front of them, but it could have come a lot sooner if they’d been paying attention.

(image: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.