The first head-to-head debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden received terrible reviews. The ratings weren’t that hot, either.
Tuesday’s presidential debate averaged 64.7 million viewers over eight broadcast and cable networks, well short of the record 84 million who tuned in for the opening debate between then-Republican nominee Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Tuesday’s Trump-Biden matchup was almost universally panned by TV commentators, with many criticizing Trump’s immediate and constant interruptions. CNN anchor Jake Tapper called the debate “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck” and “the worst debate I have ever seen.” Some responses weren’t printable. Moderator Chris Wallace, who anchors “Fox News Sunday,” received criticism from those who said he lost control of the event.
If the 2020 debates follow 2016’s pattern, viewership will drop off in the next two scheduled head-to-heads. After the record 84 million viewers for the first Trump-Clinton encounter, the second 2016 presidential debate drew 66.5 million viewers, with the third experiencing an uptick to 71.6 million. (That cycle’s only vice presidential debate, between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine, averaged 37 million viewers, the lowest for a VP matchup since 2000.)
Two more presidential debates are scheduled, although some media and political commentators are suggesting they be shelved based on Tuesday’s mess. Others, including 2016 Republican presidential debate moderator Megyn Kelly, are suggesting giving the moderator the power to cut off debaters’ microphones.
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which produces the debates and selects moderators, issued a statement Wednesday saying it would consider making changes to future debates “to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues” and expressing gratitude to Wallace for “the professionalism and skill” he brought to the event.
Later Wednesday, CBS News, citing an informed source, tweeted that the CPD “plans to issue strict new rules in the coming days that include cutting off a candidate’s microphone if they violate the rules.”
The next scheduled debate between Trump and Biden is an Oct. 15 town-meeting format in Miami that will be moderated by C-SPAN political editor Steve Scully. NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker will moderate the final head-to-head on Oct. 22 in Nashville.
Before those debates, USA TODAY Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page will moderate the sole vice presidential debate between incumbent VP Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris on Oct. 7 in Salt Lake City. (All debates start at 9 EDT/6 PDT and will last 90 minutes with no commercial interruptions.)