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Debate commission promises ‘order’ after Trump-Biden chaos

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Oct 01, 2020 - 09:47 AM

WASHINGTON — The next rounds of US presidential debates will be “more orderly,” organizers promised Wednesday, as the moderator of President Donald Trump and rival Joe Biden’s toxic Cleveland showdown admitted it had gone “off the rails.”

“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,” the Commission on Presidential Debates said in a statement.

The commission said it would soon announce measures “to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.”

This followed a meltdown at the first of three 90-minute clashes between Trump and his Democratic rival. Trump repeatedly talked over Biden, who became exasperated and called him a “clown.”

At one point, Biden told the president to “shut up.”

The moderator, Fox News’s highly experienced interviewer Chris Wallace, looked frequently lost as he pleaded with Trump in particular to respect the rules agreed to in advance by both campaigns.

Wallace admitted that he was not prepared for the chaos.

“I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did,” he told The New York Times.

It had been widely expected that Trump would bring a similar style to the one he employs at rallies and press conferences, where his outsize personality and tendency to insult critics are unlike that of any president in living memory.

But Wallace said he didn’t expect such a ceaseless barrage of interruptions and refusal to stick to the agreed format of questions.

“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,” Wallace said.

“I’m a pro. I’ve never been through anything like this.”

The debates commission may not necessarily have an easy task changing the tone of the next two sessions –scheduled for October 15 and October 22 — unless the candidates cooperate.

There are suggestions that moderators could have the power to temporarily switch off a candidate’s microphone. But Wallace pointed out that even if he had switched off Trump’s, the president could still have kept talking loudly over Biden, who stood a short distance away.

As for Trump, he declared himself winner and said the evening in Cleveland had gone well.

“The debate last night was great. We got tremendous reviews,” Trump told reporters, without identifying the positive reactions.

The president called it “an exciting evening. I see the ratings were very high and it was good to be there.”

An estimated 73.1 million people in the US watched the two candidates go toe-to-toe on TV  Tuesday night, according to data firm Nielsen.

Some Democrats and media personalities have called for Biden to boycott the next debates, but the former vice president’s camp told US media Wednesday that he still plans to participate.

Trump said he wants to go ahead with them.

“I would like to. By every measure we won the debate easily last night,” he said.

A CBS sampling of 1,039 likely voters who watched the imbroglio had Biden edging Trump by 48 percent to 41 percent — a margin similar to that of the national polls heading into the November 3 election.

And in a similar vein to the invective hurled in both directions on Tuesday, Trump declared that Biden “looked weak. He was whining.”

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