Tuesday night’s presidential debate was not the first one featuring Trump to feel more like a schoolyard taunting contest than an actual debate. But even so, it stood out for one key metric: the sheer number of interruptions.
By my count, Trump interrupted former Vice President Joe Biden or debate moderator Chris Wallace at least 128 times. This number dwarfed the 51 times Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton during the first presidential debate in 2016. For his part, Biden interrupted dozens of times—at various points either trying to get a word in edgewise or correct flat lies by the president—but his interruptions were no match for Trump’s.
Wallace’s efforts to control the debate were valiant, but ultimately futile. Trump interrupted both men during both questions and answers. He muttered snide remarks under his breath. He talked over the moderator and his opponent. And he just plain cut them off over and over again. Wallace asked the president at least 25 times to stop interrupting and obey the debate rules: “Sir, you’re debating him, not me. Let me ask my question.” “Please let the vice president talk.” “You’ve made your point. Please let him answer.” “You’ve agreed to two minutes, please let him have it.” “No, no, no Mr. President.” “Mr.—President Trump, President Trump, the interruptions.” When Wallace said, “Mr. President, can you let him finish, sir?” and Biden replied, “He doesn’t know how to do that,” Trump interrupted in response to being asked to stop interrupting: “You’d be surprised, you’d be surprised. Go ahead, talk, Joe, talk.”
At one point, Wallace noted that Trump’s campaign had agreed to a rule that allowed each candidate two minutes to answer a question before an open debate period, and that Trump was flagrantly violating that rule. At another point, there was this surreal exchange:
Ultimately, Wallace did manage to ensure that Biden received something close to equal time, with CNN tabulating that the former vice president spoke for 38 minutes to Trump’s 39 minutes. Unfortunately, much of the time that both Biden and Wallace were speaking was spent being interrupted.
This spree of interruptions is hardly surprising given Trump’s mounting desperation, his complete lack of interest in actual debate, and his long history as a practiced interrupter. But still: 128 times in 90 minutes sure seems like a personal record.
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