Trump confirms he will attend final debate despite plan to mute microphones

Donald Trump has confirmed his attendance at the final presidential debate tomorrow 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. However, he 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, it also said it would not be giving the moderator for the 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 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 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 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 yesterday 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 the debate, NBC News’s Kristin Welker, was “totally partisan” against him.

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 a 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.

Melania Trump’s return to the campaign trail will have to wait. The first lady has decided against accompanying the president to a campaign rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, because of a lingering cough after her bout with Covid-19, said Stephanie Grisham, her chief of staff.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump has called coronavirus expert Anthony Fauci a “disaster” once again, airing his frustration with the doctor during a call to campaign staff”Fauci is a disaster. If I listened to him, we’d have 500,000 deaths,” Mr Trump said during the call, which the campaign allowed reporters to join.

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