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“It’s not gonna be fair,” Trump said after the debate commission announced it would mute candidates’ mics while the other is talking.

Seeking to avoid the punishing, soul-pulverizing chaos of the first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden last month, organizers on Monday announced a new rule: When one candidate is talking, the other’s microphone will be muted. “We are comfortable that these actions strike the right balance and that they are in the interest of the American people, for whom these debates are held,” the Commission on Presidential Debates said in a statement. For anyone who doesn’t want to listen to Trump honk and whine over his opponent and the moderator for an hour and a half, this is perhaps a small but welcome step in the right direction. But for Trump, whose strategy relies on the very interruptions the new rule is meant to cut down on, it’s further evidence that the deck is stacked against him.

Speaking on Fox & Friends Tuesday morning, Trump blasted the mute rule as “crazy” and just one of many “funny things” the debate commission has done to undermine him. “These people are not good people,” he said of debate organizers, warning of a “setup” when he takes the stage with Biden in Nashville Thursday. “It’s not gonna be fair,” Trump complained. “There’s nothing fair about this debate, but that’s okay.”

Lacking anything new or interesting to say, Trump spent the first debate trying to keep Biden from making himself heard. While moderator Chris Wallace scolded the president for his constant interruptions, he failed to bring him under control. The result was an hour and a half so dispiriting and grotesque that some questioned whether this would be the last debate not just of this cycle, but ever. Trump’s subsequent announcement that he had contracted COVID-19, which hospitalized him just a few days later, made the prospect that the slate would be wiped clean seem even more imminent. The commission attempted to salvage its October 15 debate by holding it virtually, but the president rejected that plan, citing the fact that such a format would allow the moderator to “cut you off whenever they want.”

Moderator Kristen Welker won’t be in charge of cutting off the candidates’ mics under the new CPD rules—that’ll fall to the production crew—but the format, and the discussion topics selected by the NBC News journalist, have raised the possibility that Trump could still pull out. Indeed, Trump and campaign manager Bill Stepien have been laying the groundwork to cancel the Nashville event in recent days, with a demand that the debate focus solely on foreign policy and not the broader array of topics Welker plans to touch on, including race, coronavirus, and climate change—matters on which Trump has absolutely zero credibility. So even though Trump suggested Tuesday morning he’s ready to spar no matter what, nothing about the debate is certain, including whether he shows up. But even if he doesn’t back out, he’s already setting the stage to claim everyone rigged the event against him if he turns in another disastrous performance. He’s been launching broadsides against Welker for days, describing the journalist as a “radical Democrat” and on Fox & Friends Tuesday calling her “terrible.” He also suggested Tuesday that he is at a disadvantage because Biden “lies” and “says things that are crazy,” and that with his mic muted, he won’t be able to call him out in real time. 
Asked by the Fox & Friends crew what his strategy would be for this final round with Biden, Trump gave a little taste of what we’re in for Thursday. Hunter Biden’s emails, the most important issue to Americans in 2020, seem as though they’ll figure heavily into the proceedings. So, too, will Trump’s claim that this election boils down to a fight between “the great American dream versus a socialist hellhole.” Sounds like it’ll be another great night for democracy.

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