‘I think this is really needed,’ UTK debate team president says about new muting rule for upcoming presidential debate

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — On Monday, the Commission on Presidential Debates issued a new rule for the upcoming presidential election that involved muting one candidate while their opponent is speaking.

According to the statement released by the CDP, they thought about adding a new rule “in order to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.”

Both campaigns agreed to the two-minute, uninterrupted rule.

The difference between the previous debates and the upcoming debate on Thursday is “the only candidate whose microphone will be open during these two-minute periods is the candidate who has the floor under the rules.”

Codey King, president and coach for the Tennessee Speech and Debate Society at the University of Tennessee, said he has been debating for seven years.

He said through his studies, during his own debates or those he watched, he’s never seen candidates behave so rudely towards each other during a face-off.

“The purpose of these debates isn’t for the candidates to jab back and forth at each other, but it’s for the American people to decide which candidate best fulfills their ideological and policy positions,” King said.

King said presidential debates are different than those at the collegiate level.

He said the biggest different between the two types of debate is that on the collegiate level, they have to abide by the rules set forth by the national league, whereas the presidential campaigns are given a set of rules and they can agree to follow.

King said a hot topic after the first presidential debate was that the two candidates agreed to two-minutes of no interruptions, but didn’t adhere by their agreement.

“It’s supposed to be uninterrupted and then it goes into a more open forum where interrupting isn’t as bad, because the initial question had already been answered,” King said.

Another difference is that interrupting an opponent during a collegiate debate leads to points being knocked off.

“You’re there to do one thing. You’re there to advocate for your position. Failing to do so is what leads you to losing and what leads to people having a lesser view of you,” King said.

Richard Pacelle, Director of the Political Science Department at UT, had a similar opinion.

“There’s a way that the people can kind of connect with the candidates and so a debate provides that, even if you don’t get a lot of information out of it. You sit there and you check out the demeanors of the two individuals,” Pacelle said.

Pacelle said as of late, these candidates are waiting for that ‘shock’ moment that would essentially make the other person look like the lesser candidate.

If they keep interrupting each other, they really can’t do that to each other.

Despite the fact that essentially adding a mute button is unprecedented in a presidential debate, both Pacelle and King said it is needed.

“I think this is really needed compared to the last presidential debates and last vice presidential debates, where you had a lot of those interruptions during the most important time of the debate, where we’re talking about substance and policy,” King said.

Pacelle said it might also help the moderator do what are supposed to do, which is simply ask questions and guide the candidates through the debate.

“So it’s not really like every time one of them speaks, the other’s microphone is going to be shut off. It’s during the structured part of the debate where they’re answering the questions. And I think you saw with the Vice Presidential debate, Mike Pence ended up getting a lot more time to speak because he was willing to kind of go over his time and the moderator was unable to reign him in,” Pacelle said.

King said that because of COVID-19, watching the debates with his team hasn’t been the same, but they do have a group chat going while the candidates go head-to-head.

He said there are a few lessons from the debates he can easily use as examples of what not to do, so they can keep winning national championships.

“When you’re being interrupted, don’t shout back. Just sit there and let it happen because it reflects poorly on your opponent, and if you were to engage in that, then it also reflects poorly on you,” King said.

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