The primary reason for this was that there were significantly less interruptions throughout the roughly 90-minute Thursday evening event, which was aptly moderated by NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker. Each candidate was given ample time to answer questions and respond to accusations from his opponent. Welker supplied both candidates with tough questions on their records and didn’t hesitate to follow-up or repeat questions when Biden or Trump failed to provide sufficient answers. Thursday’s event actually resembled a typical presidential debate from prior election seasons.
That’s not necessarily high praise, but after the thoroughly embarrassing affair that was the first Biden-Trump bout several weeks ago, expectations for Thursday’s event were rock bottom. Indeed, many of the issues that have plagued the 2020 election season, from the promotion of various conspiracy theories to incessant finger-pointing — Biden and Trump wasted too much time on arguing about which candidate was more paid off by foreign governments — and bizarre tangents — Trump claimed that only undocumented immigrants “with the lowest IQ” show up for their immigration court hearings and also expressed concern that windmills were killing all of the birds — were front and center during Thursday’s debate. That said, most of the night’s topics were covered in sufficient detail, each candidate was given time to present their ideas to the audience, and Biden and Trump responded to one another without the event devolving into mind-numbing noise. If nothing else, at least voters got at least one 2020 presidential debate that did the thing it was supposed to do.
Welker deserves ample praise for moderating the event. Unlike Chris Wallace, the Fox News Sunday anchor who failed to rein in either candidate while moderating the first presidential debate, Welker did an admirable job of keeping Biden and Trump on track and ensuring that appropriate time was dedicated for both debate’s prearranged questions and various follow-ups. She stepped aside when there was reason to let Biden and Trump cross-talk, but rarely hesitated to interject when the discussion got too off-course. Welker also deserves commendation for asking each candidate difficult, personalized questions about their record, particularly with regards to race in America and Mexico border policies.
Aside from the change in moderation, Thursday’s event also differed from the first Biden-Trump debate due to a new rule that a candidate’s mic would be cut during their opponents initial two minute answer for each topic — a direct response to the incessant interruptions that derailed the September debate. Contrary to some speculation, there were no plans to cut the mics outside of those specific two-minute segments. Pundits will offer their takes in the coming days about whether the new mic rule, shifting poll numbers, or whatever else incentivized Trump and Biden to not interrupt one another on Thursday, but regardless, the change appeared to have a positive effect and it’d be wise for the Commission on Presidential Debates to keep the mic rule intact for future elections, no matter the presidential candidates.
The second and final presidential debate between Biden and Trump can be viewed below: