Donald Trump says he will attend final debate on Thursday despite microphone muting change

Ben Riley-Smith
·3-min read
Donald Trump dropped out of the second debate after it was made into a virtual event following his Covid-19 diagnosis - MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
Donald Trump dropped out of the second debate after it was made into a virtual event following his Covid-19 diagnosis - MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Donald Trump has confirmed his attendance at the final presidential debate on Thursday night despite organisers announcing microphones will be muted at certain points, setting up the biggest remaining set piece of the election campaign.

The US president had said previously he would not allow debate rules to be changed after the chaotic first clash, when he had repeatedly interrupted Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, but despite complaining has backed down. 

On Monday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that for each debate topic when a candidate gets two minutes to outline their position the other politician's microphone will be off, meaning initial statements can be made uninterrupted. 

However the Commission also said it would not be giving the moderator for Thursday’s debate in Nashville, Tennessee, the right to cut off a candidate's microphone during the debating that follows opening statements on each topic.

That raised the prospect of the change having a limited impact on the quality of discussion, widely panned after the hostile exchanges and personal insults of the first debate in Cleveland, given much of the interrupting happened in those periods.

Explaining its stance when announcing the change, the Commission said in a statement on Monday "it is appropriate to adopt measures intended to promote adherence to agreed upon rules and inappropriate to make changes to those rules”. 

Mr Trump had refused to take part in the second presidential debate, which had been scheduled for two weeks ago, after the Commission made the event virtual rather than in-person in the wake of his Covid-19 diagnosis.

The Trump campaign moved fast to end speculation of pulling out from this debate when the microphone muting decision was announced, issuing a statement saying the president was “committed” to taking part despite the change. 

Mr Trump himself said on Monday night: “I’ll participate, I just think it’s very unfair.”

The president, in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday morning, heavily criticised the Commission but again did not float the prospect of not showing up. 

“Well I think the whole thing is crazy”, Mr Trump said when asked about the format change.

The president claimed the Commission was attempting to help Mr Biden, calling the debate “a stacked deck”.

He also claimed the moderator for Thursday’s debate, NBC News’s Kristin Welker, was “totally partisan” against him.

However Mr Trump gave no indication he would not turn up for the debate, insisting that he was not “nervous” about taking on Mr Biden. 

Mr Trump hinted he could adopt a changed approach, saying provocatively that some people had suggested he allow Mr Biden to talk so the Democrat loses his train of thought and appears “gonzo”.

With less that fortnight to go before election day, the debate offers Mr Trump a late opportunity to change the dynamics of the race.

The president is trailing in opinion polls both of the nation as a whole and in most key battleground states, though he has insisted he has his own internal polls showing otherwise.

Pundits have cautioned against calling the race before it is over, given Mr Trump managed to turn an apparent poll deficit to Hillary Clinton in 2016 into a victory on election day.