If I were Chris Wallace, I’d be annoyed. This final debate between the two 2020 Presidential candidates was a stark difference from the first (only other) debate of the election.
Was it because the microphones were muted for the first two minutes of each topic segment? Perhaps.
The fact that moderator Kristen Welker pleaded with the candidates to speak one at a time? Perhaps.
Or because both candidates’ debate performances were skewered in the press? Perhaps.
Or was it because there are only 12 days to go and the race is up for grabs? Perhaps.
For this last debate, it was this confluence of events that enabled a solid discussion of the six topics she selected – as well as some decent moderating skills.
She asked a balanced number of questions between the two candidates (Trump was asked 15 questions; Biden 14).
She tried to keep the amount of airtime rather balanced (40:31 / 37:43) – having to interrupt Trump more (16 /2), and yielded the floor to Trump more (7 /0). She gave time limits to talk (“You have 30 seconds” or “You have 10 seconds” – not that they paid too much attention to the deadline!) or deftly included the other candidate into the conversation (“Let me bring you into the conversation…”).
She asked more pointed, closed questions (“Can you name the specific companies that are manufacturing a vaccine?”) and “plan” questions about how they intended to accomplish a stated goal. She pointed out when there was new information and tried to probe further. So I think we got more clarity around the candidates’ positions. Yay!
And when the discussion on race in America took a detour into corruption allegations, she firmly reinforced, “Let’s stay on the issue of race.” Nicely done!
Yet when the candidates were asked to discuss matters of national security (What they would do in the next term to end the threat of Russia and Iran influencing the election), we somehow started talking about tax returns and Chinese bank accounts. Whaaaat? Welker deftly picked up on the China comment and pivoted to Biden asking him to “talk about China more broadly,” which still didn’t go anywhere.
Unfortunately, when she wanted to move on to the next question, she was often stymied by each candidate wanting one more comment – and she would let them! Guess it is hard to tell a current president and former vice president to “shut up!”
One final comment – the timing of each segment was a bit lopsided. The Commission on Presidential Debates mandates the format to “be divided into six segments of approximately 15 minutes each on major topics to be selected by the moderator.” The first segment (Fighting COVID-19) lasted 25 minutes; National Security was 19 minutes; American Families was 17 minutes; Immigration was five minutes (that wasn’t even a topic…but maybe that was part of American Families?); Race in America was 15 minutes and one question on Leadership that lasted three minutes. 96 minutes total.
Needless to say, Welker did not follow the prescribed format, but I don’t think anyone minded too much. She did a decent job and I am so thankful it wasn’t a reprise of the first debate!
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