Go Lincoln-Douglas: Eliminate Moderators From Presidential Debates

October 1, 2020 Updated: October 1, 2020


The tenor of the Sept. 29 presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden has created the predictable uproar.

Some felt Trump was rude and loutish. Others thought he was ganged up on two against one, with Fox’s Chris Wallace not even pretending to be a neutral moderator.

Yet again, if you were to believe the mainstream media, the barbarian president has finally destroyed himself, his electoral prospects now somewhere between hopeless and non-existent.

Strangely, however, post-debate polling on C-SPAN and Spanish-language Telemundo showed their viewers, by close to 2-to-1, thought Trump had won the debate.


But have no fear. The good folks at The Commission on Presidential Debate are coming to the rescue.

From our friends at The New York Times:

“The Commission on Presidential Debates said on Wednesday that it would adjust the format of this year’s remaining matchups in the wake of Tuesday night’s melee in Cleveland, where frequent interruptions from President Trump led to a chaotic and often incoherent event.

“Several changes are under consideration, including new limits on speaking times that would replace an open discussion portion of the debate where candidates have traditionally been encouraged to freely engage, according to two people with knowledge of the commission’s discussions on Wednesday.”

Ah, those ubiquitous “two people with knowledge of the commission’s discussions”—where have we heard that before?

But never mind. Let’s assume for once that the NY Times has it right and give them the Pulitzer for Best Reporting/Debate Commissions. (They’ll win it anyway.) We will shortly have a new set of rules that are undoubtedly more stringent and keep The Donald in check.

I have a totally different suggestion.

Let’s completely eliminate moderators from presidential debates, all of them, not just Chris Wallace, although I’m almost certain the vast majority of Fox viewers would be delighted to see him go altogether.

Presidential debates should be conducted in the time-honored Lincoln-Douglas style, just the two candidates by themselves on stage.

For those who don’t remember or attended our schools when such things were no longer taught, Wikipedia says:

“The Lincoln–Douglas debates (also known as The Great Debates of 1858) were a series of seven debates between Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party candidate for the United States Senate from Illinois, and incumbent Senator Stephen Douglas, the Democratic Party candidate. … The debates previewed the issues that Lincoln later faced after his victory in the 1860 presidential election.”

Lincoln was something of a sensation in those debates, which led to his national recognition and the presidency.

These mano-a-mano matchups sans moderator or moderators offer a much more direct view of the ideas of the candidates without the intervention of referees who have biases of their own.

Moderators, even those who seem or claim to be the most evenhanded, pick sides on one level or another. We all do. We can do without them.

Lincoln-Douglas-style debates are simpler to conduct and are the opposite of the rules-driven approach taken by the Commission. The candidates can make their own rules as they go.

For example, if the subject of that day’s debate is foreign policy, one candidate need only say “You’re changing the subject” when his opponent veers off into domestic issues—or he can join him in discussing the subject, if he so wishes.

If one of the candidates is monopolizing the discussion or using cheap insults such as “racist” or “clown,” the other can say so.

The audience is intelligent enough to see what is happening, draw their own conclusions, and respond accordingly at the ballot box.

I know the Lincoln-Douglas style is unlikely to be adopted for our current presidential debates. The media, worried how Biden might do by himself, would abhor it, as would the candidate’s handlers themselves, not to mention the Commission that would be rendered powerless by such an approach.

Nevertheless, someday in the future, we may return to this technique from our mid-19th-century past. We would be the better for it.

Roger L. Simon is an award-winning author, Oscar-nominated screenwriter, co-founder of PJ Media, and now, a columnist for The Epoch Times. Find him on Parler and Twitter @rogerlsimon. Buy (and enjoy) his books on Amazon.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.