Donald Trump on Thursday declared his opposition to changing the rules for the next two presidential debates and suggested he would not “allow” such a thing to happen, setting up a potential clash with the organisers.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonpartisan body which puts on the events, announced after Tuesday’s raucous clash between Mr Trump and Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, that “additional structure” would be put in place for the two remaining meetings.
One specific change they are considering, according to the Associated Press, is giving the debate moderator the ability to cut off the microphone of one candidate to allow the other to answer a question, a move that could be effective but controversial.
Mr Trump left no doubt about his opposition on Thursday afternoon, tweeting: “Why would I allow the Debate Commission to change the rules for the second and third debates when I easily won last time?”
The remarks raised the question of whether the US president will agree to attend the last two debates if, as expected, the Commission announces format changes.
The idea of cutting microphones is being discussed after Mr Trump interrupted either Mr Biden or the moderator Chris Wallace at least 128 times during the 90-minute debate in Cleveland, according to the magazine Slate which went back and counted.
Details of specific format changes are yet to be announced. But Mr Trump’s tweet was preceded by his campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh rejecting the need for any modifications.
“They're only doing this because their guy got pummelled last night. President Trump was the dominant force and now Joe Biden is trying to work the refs,” Mr Murtaugh said on Wednesday.
"They shouldn't be moving the goalposts and changing the rules in the middle of the game."
Similarly Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, said that Mr Trump “doesn't want rules that cover for a certain candidate's inability to perform well”, a jibe at Mr Biden.
Yet a string of Republican senators expressed their dismay at the state of the discussions on the debate stage, which frequently descended into personal insults.
Utah senator Mitt Romney called the debate an “embarrassment”, Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski called it a “brawl” and Nebraska senator Deb Fischer called it "exhausting”.
Maine senator Susan Collins said it was “the least educational debate of any presidential debate I've ever seen”. All four politicians are from Mr Trump’s party, the Republicans.
Mr Wallace, the Fox News host whose handling of the debate was in the spotlight after Mr Trump repeatedly talked over Mr Biden, laid bare his frustration in a New York Times interview.
"I never dreamt that it would go off the tracks the way it did”, Mr Wallace said. “I’m a pro. I’ve never been through anything like this.”
Mr Wallace called the way the debate had turned out “sad" and "a terrible missed opportunity" for the nation to learn more about the candidates and their policies.
Mr Wallace said he would have jumped in sooner to establish order if he knew beforehand that Mr Trump’s strategy would be hounding his opponent. But he warned that cutting microphones may not work.
“As a practical matter, even if the president’s microphone had been shut, he still could have continued to interrupt, and it might well have been picked up on Biden’s microphone, and it still would have disrupted the proceedings in the hall,” he said.
Mr Trump, speaking at a rally on Wednesday night, again criticised Mr Wallace for his handling of the clash. “I was debating two people last night. I'm so disappointed in Fox,” the US president said.
He added: “The liberal media is upset that I took the fight to Biden and exposed his dangerous agenda.” Mr Biden was taking a day off the campaign trail on Thursday after completing a train tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania, two states the Democrats lost to Mr Trump in 2016.
Speaking to reporters at the end of the trip, Mr Biden said he wanted blue collar workers who felt the Democratic Party no longer felt their economic pain to know he understood their concerns.
“I get it. I get their sense of being left behind,” he said.