Opinion: The next presidential debate needs a Trump timeout room

President Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden spar during their first debate Tuesday in Cleveland.
President Trump interrupts former Vice President Joe Biden during their first debate Tuesday. The scene would be repeated over and over.
(AFP via Getty Images)

The presidential debate had clear rules, a fair-minded moderator and good questions about worthwhile issues. What it was missing: a timeout room and microphones that could be turned off and on by said moderator, Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

It could have used a mom, too. Someone who knows how to exert some discipline over a heedless child.

That was what this mom thought as she heard President Trump’s constant interruptions, his rude talking-over and Wallace’s relative helplessness at restoring order despite some real efforts on his part as the evening deteriorated. The room needed someone who knows how to use the word “rude” in a way that means “you’d better not do that again, mister, president or not.”


Trump’s behavior wasn’t just discourteous and disrespectful toward former Vice President Joe Biden and Wallace but to the entire watching American public. His refusal to stop butting in, to stop talking over others, made the debate torturous. It was an almost completely useless vehicle for learning about the candidates and the issues. The facts? Well, who expected facts?

Let’s leave alone for now the number of misleading and downright lying statements by Trump. (OK, just one: The Portland sheriff came out in support of him? The sheriff ‘s response: Not now. Not ever.) Biden told a few less-than-fully-truths as well.

It was Trump’s constant disruptions, and refusal to listen to Wallace’s increasingly stern reminders that it was not his turn to speak, that turned the debate from a place where serious issues might be seriously discussed to a low-rent display of bad behavior. This wasn’t appropriate viewing for children, that’s for sure. Who would feel inspired to vote after a display like this? I’ve seen horror movies that made me cringe less.

With someone like Trump in the room, each of the candidates should have been given a plexiglass booth and another rule: Behave or you’re punished. You get one cutoff warning and if you don’t immediately shut your trap, your microphone goes off for one minute while your opponent gets to speak, uninterrupted.

Every. Time. It. Happens.

Because moms know that consequences have to be consistent to work.

That would have made things simple, clear, fair, and a lot easier on the viewers’ ears. Imagine if we could have listened to one person at a time instead of the cacophony of two old guys grumping at each other at the same time. Plus, it probably would provide an opportunity to see Trump throw a full-blown tantrum in pantomime as he realized that for once the rules applied to him. Soon, the sound booth would become a crying room.

I accept, sadly, that the old-style art of debate — in which thoughtful people practiced skilled oratory and used the opportunity to inform the public about their platforms — has been gone for decades. Remember “Read my lips. No new taxes”? That 1988 statement by then-candidate George H.W. Bush introduced the sound bite to presidential debates and was seen at the time as a cheapening of the discourse, a chance to play a quick one for headlines instead of engaging in a serious discussion. In retrospect, it looks downright intellectual. At least he was talking about an issue instead of engaging in personal attacks. At least he waited his turn.


The cheapening has been going on ever since, until it reached the point of public disgrace Tuesday night.

Without an “off” switch to the debaters’ mics, the next sound during presidential debates will be the “off” switches of TV sets and computers at home as American voters literally and metaphorically turn off from civic engagement.