Analysis: Why changing the debate rules can’t possibly solve the real problem

Analysis: Why changing the debate rules can’t possibly solve the real problem

(CNN)In the wake of the single worst debate in modern American politics, the Commission on Presidential Debates is pledging to make some changes.

“Last night’s debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues,” said the CPD in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.
Which, given the raft of negative coverage of the debate, the commission that organizes the three presidential (and one vice presidential) debates every four years probably felt compelled to say. The statement is the CPD saying, Hey we know there’s a problem and we are going to fix it!
Spoiler alert: They won’t.
Because the problem wasn’t, really, the rules of the first debate. It was President Donald Trump — and his utter refusal to follow the rules his campaign had previously agreed on or, if we are being honest, any rules at all.
Remember that this debate did actually have rules. Moderator Chris Wallace would introduce a topic and ask a question. Each candidate would have two uninterrupted minutes to answer. Then the other candidate would have his two minutes. Then a general conversation, guided by Wallace, would ensue.
Those rules were fine! The goal was to allow each candidate to have their say while also ensuring that they could get into an honest exchange of ideas as opposed to just repeating talking points without ever being challenged by the moderator or their opponent.
The problem is that Trump doesn’t care about the rules — or whether they were carefully negotiated by his campaign. He does whatever the hell he wants. He thinks he is entitled to that — that he is special. That the rules, quite literally, don’t apply to him.
So what we had on Tuesday night was two people — former Vice President Joe Biden and Wallace — attempting to play by the agreed-upon rules and one, in Trump, who purposely flouted those rules at every moment he could.
Think of it this way: You are playing tennis. You are following the rules. The umpire is following the rules. But your opponent refuses to keep score, pronounces that he has won every point, takes out some scissors and cuts down the net and then runs and punches you in the gut.
Is the solution the next time that you play him to a) make sure there are more rules and b) make sure he knows the rules? OF COURSE NOT.
The next debate — set for October 15 in Miami — is ostensibly going to be a “town-hall-style event with undecided voters from South Florida.” Which simply because of the format should lessen Trump’s bullying and cajoling.
But the CPD can make as many rules as it likes in an attempt to make the debates of some use to the public, and it won’t change this fundamental fact: The President of the United States has zero interest in engaging in a substantive conversation about his first term and his differences with Biden.
Trump’s default setting is chaos and he believes that by creating it he can “win.” There are no rules that can be made to prevail in that case.

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