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Former Steering Committee co-chair weighs in on why we debate

Posted at 12:30 PM, Oct 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-07 13:03:36-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The vice-presidential candidates for the 2020 presidential election are set to debate on a nationally televised stage Wednesday night. And the behavior of the presidential candidates during the first debate, questions were raised as to why debates are held in the first place.

Richard Trollinger is the former Centre College vice president of college relations. Before retiring, he was the co-chair of the Steering Committee for the two vice-presidential debates hosted at the college.

"We hosted the one in 2000 between Cheney and Sen. Lieberman,” he said. “And then, in 2012, between Vice President Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan -- both very interesting experiences."

Trollinger explained while there are three presidential debates in each cycle, there is only one for the vice-presidential candidates.

" Someone's got to be ready to take over in the event of a worst-case scenario," he said. "And so, it's important to be aware of the fact that we're electing not just the president. That person's always going to get to primary billing, because they're the president. But it's important for all of us to be aware that we're electing a ticket."

Trollinger said the Commission on Presidental Debates has a duty to educate voters ahead of the election.

"Last week's debate ... that that mission was not served,” he said. “So I don't think it was a good moment for the American people. In truth, you know, we learned a lot about the man on stage."

Trollinger said he is optimistic for Wednesday night's debate between Vice President Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, as he thinks its spirit will be more closely in line with the purpose of political debates.

"I think we'll see more of the kind of discussion that gives the voting public insight into the visions of the future for our country that each of these leaders has and how they would propose to get there," said Trollinger. "I think I fully expect a different kind of debate, perhaps not as exciting in some ways, but much more substantive than we saw this past week."

Given President Donald Trump's recent stint in the hospital due to COVID-19, Trollinger said the readiness of the VP candidates is likely to be a hot topic.

"The readiness of this person to step in and be the leader of the free world the leader of our country, because each of them would be serving along with a person who is a good deal older and might be more susceptible to a debilitating illness," he said. "They'll give us in key insight as to whether or not any event that one of them has to assume the role, they're ready to do it and that we would have confidence, and their ability to do it and do it well."

After the first presidential debate ended in shock by how the candidates conducted themselves, Trollinger said he is an advocate of the possibility of the microphone being shut off on a candidate who breaks the agreed-upon rules.

"I think that knowing of the possibility that would be a restraint for the candidates,” he said. “Not to do it if they go, you know, eight seconds over their allotted two minutes. But, if they're interruptions, you know, just a general refusal to, to, to be mannerly, and to abide by the rules of civility, that there is a way to have a, sort of, embarrassed them in public if you would, but also to preserve the other person's right to speak."

The vice-presidential debate is set to begin at 9 p.m. Wednesday on NBC.