By Susana Samhan
Nashville, Tennessee, Oct 21 (efe-epa).- After three weeks of doubts about whether a new electoral debate between President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, would take place, everything is finally pointing to another in-person faceoff between the two men on Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee, with new rules such as temporarily silencing a candidate’s microphones at times while his rival is speaking to avoid the chaos that marked their first encounter.
Nashville, the country music capital, is ready to host the second and final debate between the two men, although actually the upcoming contest was supposed to have been the third such encounter, at Belmont University from 8 pm to 9:30 pm on Thursday.
The main roadways in the city have been covered with signs announcing the debate and authorities have been performing Covid-19 tests since the weekend on journalists and volunteers who are arriving for the event.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, the non-partisan organizing entity for the debate, announced this week a new protocol so that the situation in the last face-to-face debate on Sept. 29 in Cleveland, Ohio, which was marked by numerous interruptions – most of them by Trump – prevented the candidates from discussing in detail issues of interest to many voters.
The biggest change this time around will be that one or the other candidate’s microphone will be turned off during portions of the event.
The debate will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes each, and each beginning with uninterrupted two-minute introductory statements by both Trump and Biden.
It will be during those initial two minutes that the microphone of the non-speaking candidate will be silenced to guarantee that the listener does not interrupt the speaker, at least in a way that television viewers can hear.
During the remaining time in each segment, both mikes will be open, although the Commission has said that it hopes the candidates will be “respectful” of each other’s time and not try to interrupt or dominate the conversation.
Despite this new element, political debate expert David Zarefsky, a professor at Northwestern University, told EFE that he has doubts that the mike-silencing tactic will moderate the tone of the encounter.
Saying that he thought it will be “more or less” the same tone as during the first debate, except during the two-minute remarks by each candidate, which theoretically will be uninterrupted. The subsequent discussion could be more chaotic, however, he said, adding that he was not sure whether Trump is able to contain himself and let Biden speak without jumping in.
Boston University communications Prof. Tammy Vigil also predicted that it is very probable that Trump will use the same strategy he employed in the first debate, even if his mike has been silenced, since Biden – standing just 10 feet away – presumably will still be able to hear whatever he might say to try and disrupt his concentration as he makes his remarks.
Trump does not seem capable of controlling himself, Vigil told EFE, adding that he will probably make comments to distract and interrupt Biden. Trump seems to be – in effect – stuck in interruption mode, she suggested, despite the fact that it clearly rubs people who are not part of his loyal base the wrong way. However, the president possibly considers his actions as motivators for his base, and thus he may redouble his efforts along those lines.
In Vigil’s judgment, Biden should try to ignore Trump, but it’s possible that he will respond to his provocations, especially if the president attacks his son Hunter, something that Trump knows since the former VP did lash out at Trump in their first debate in just that circumstance.
The encounter surely will be a challenge for the moderator, NBC journalist Kristen Welker, after the heavy load of criticism that Chris Wallace, the Fox News moderator of the Cleveland debate, has received for “allowing” the debate to spiral out of his control.
In the Nashville encounter, the issues that will be dealt with in the six time blocs will be the coronavirus pandemic, US families, national security, leadership, the climate crisis and racial issues.
In addition, wearing facemasks will be obligatory for everyone attending the debate – except the two candidates, at least while they are on the stage – and anyone refusing to do so will be expelled, in contrast to the Cleveland debate, where most of Trump’s invited guests did not wear them, although Biden’s did.
It was two days after the first debate that Trump announced that he had become infected with the coronavirus, along with first lady Melania Trump, although it is not precisely known how they picked it up, and it was in part due to this fact that the second debate – originally scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami – was cancelled.
Because of the chaos that reigned at the first debate, it was not clear who “won” the encounter. Zarefsky says that Biden triumphed because Trump did not respond to basic questions posed to him by Biden, such as challenging him to lay out his much-promised but never yet revealed alternative to the Affordable Care Act, whether there is systemic racism in US society and whether he would commit to accepting the result of the election if he loses.
However, Vigil says that it can also be said that Trump won because Biden was “unable” to defend his ideas in a clear and coherent way, and because virtually all the post-debate media coverage was on the interruptions rather than on the substance of the men’s remarks on the issues.