Organizers insisted there would not be a repeat of the previous chaotic debate, and they took unusual steps to ensure that

By Adam Carlson
October 22, 2020 11:24 PM
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It was the sound not heard 'round the world.

Heading into Thursday's debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, many viewers might have wondered what the tone on stage would be, especially in the shadow of the chaotic first debate late last month in which Trump repeatedly heckled and interrupted Biden, who responded by calling him a "clown" and telling him to "shut up."

Organizers insisted there would not be a repeat of that affair on Thursday, and they took unusual steps to ensure that.

On stage on Thursday, both candidates' microphones were muted during the other's initial answer. However, the mics were not muted during subsequent question-and-answer among Biden, Trump and moderator Kristen Welker.

Trump, who was the main reason for the Sept. 29 debate's unruly tone, had said the muting was "very unfair." But there was also much less need for it.

Thursday's debate was noticeably calmer — the president, 74, seemingly having adjusted his style after a widely criticized debate performance last month, rarely interrupted or talked over his rival and viewers at home may almost not have even caught that the candidates' microphones were occasionally muted, except for the occasional change in audio.

The debate did see both Biden, 77, and Trump adopt a strategy of aggressively polite response, insisting that Welker allow them some time to respond to the other even as she tried to move on to other topics. Welker generally accommodated each of them, resulting in a more traditional debate of back-and-forth versus cross-talk.

Former Vice President Joe Biden at Thursday's debate with President Donald Trump in Nashville, Tennessee.
| Credit: Getty Images
President Donald Trump (left) and former Vice President Joe Biden at Thursday's debate in Nashville, Tennessee.
| Credit: Getty Images
President Donald Trump at Thursday's debate in Nashville, Tennessee.
| Credit: Getty Images

Trump reverted to a debate style familiar to both his supporters and detractors — heavy on hand gestures and rebuttals, with a heavy focus on the Biden family's business dealings. Biden, meanwhile, often laughed off his opponent's criticisms or noted where Trump was not being truthful.

It was a much more standard scene compared to the debate some three weeks ago, when Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, who was moderating, at one point paused the night to enforce decorum.

Ahead of the the Thursday night face-off, NBC cautioned that it did not have control over the muting function, which was being managed solely by organizers with the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Welker, the last in this campaign cycle's series of debate moderators, had come under fire from Trump before Thursday. He criticized her as biased.

Nonetheless, her moderating style drew praise from other journalists on Thursday night: "A consummate pro on a big and difficult stage," Dan Rather tweeted.