We’re down to one final presidential debate: The second scheduled meetup between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden was canceled amid a dispute about whether to do it virtually. The last presidential debate of 2020, set for tonight in Nashville, will take place in person with changes to its format: For the first two minutes of each segment, the candidate whose turn it isn’t to speak will have his microphone cut off, and guests must wear masks.
For this final debate, the coronavirus safety plan onstage is similar to the first one: It will be held in person, but the candidates will be far apart and not shake hands.
The audience will again be smaller than in debates in years past. The first debate had 80 to 90 people in the audience, all of whom were supposed to be tested for the novel coronavirus. The attendees were also supposed to wear masks, per the advice of the Cleveland Clinic, which was the official partner of the debate. But members of the Trump family took off their masks after arriving, prompting widespread criticism, including from moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News, and new rules say that any audience member without a mask will be asked to leave.
The vice-presidential debate between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) had plexiglass between the candidates. Then Trump, fresh off a coronavirus diagnosis, said he wouldn’t do the second debate virtually. The two candidates ended up participating in dueling town-hall forums instead.
Here’s what we know about the third and final presidential debate.
Last presidential debate: Tonight
Location: Belmont University in Nashville. This is one of the few original hosting universities that did not reverse its decision to hold a debate.
Time: 9-10:30 p.m. Eastern time
Where to watch: The Washington Post will have an uninterrupted live stream of the debate. It will also be carried on most major news stations.
Moderator: Kristen Welker, NBC News White House correspondent and co-anchor of “Weekend Today”
Details: The debate will be 90 minutes long and have no commercial breaks. It will be divided into six 15-minute segments that the moderator has chosen. They are: fighting covid-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.
Trump’s campaign has criticized the topics, saying they thought this was supposed to be a foreign policy debate. The head of the Commission on Presidential Debates said that’s not true.
Trump has criticized the moderator, Welker, as being biased, as he has other moderators. The commission and even a Fox News host have defended Welker’s integrity.
The commission also announced days before the debate that in light of Trump’s frequent interruptions during the first one, it will silence the microphone of the candidate who is not speaking during the two-minute opening segment for each candidate. After each candidate has two minutes, there will be an open discussion where both microphones will be on, but the commission urged civility in a statement: “It is the hope of the Commission that the candidates will be respectful of each other’s time.” The Trump campaign said it still will participate, despite the president criticizing a potential virtual debate as a forum where it would be too easy to silence his microphone.
The Washington Post reports that both candidates are strategizing how to work with the new format. Advisers are asking Trump to interrupt less and let Biden talk more.
Meanwhile, Biden is doing more formal debate prep than Trump. The president is using his rallies and chats with his advisers to prepare, and he’s likely to bring up unsubstantiated, alleged emails about Biden’s son Hunter Biden claiming he tried to leverage his father’s vice presidency for business. Biden has said it’s a smear campaign and noted that Trump’s own children have been accused of making money off their father’s presidency.