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Presidential debate live updates: the Biden-Trump faceoff is over, but the wider debate is just beginning

Brendan Smialowski, Jim Watson, Morry Gash

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This combination of pictures shows Trump and Biden during the final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., in 2020.

Biden and Trump are set to go one-on-one on the debate stage Thursday for the first time in four years.

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It’s likely to be a memorable night if 2020 is any indication. Here’s a look at what happened last time the two took the stage together.

Trump derailed the first debate

The first round of debates in September 2020 was, by many accounts, a disaster. NPR’s Domenico Montanaro called it “maybe the worst presidential debate in American history.”

Trump arrived on the debate stage trailing in the polls and, apparently, jonesing for drama. He interrupted Biden constantly, peppering him with questions and personal slights despite moderator Chris Wallace’s pleas for order.

Biden tried to ignore Trump talking over him throughout — but called him a “clown” more than once. At one point he had clearly had enough.

“Will you shut up, man?” he said exasperatedly, as Trump continued accusing him of wanting to pack the Supreme Court. “This is so unpresidential.”

Trump even bulldozed over Wallace, prompting the then-Fox News anchor to declare, “Mr. President, I am the moderator of this debate and I would like you to let me ask my question and then you can answer.”

Still, a few substantive moments stood out amidst the chaos and crosstalk. When asked to disavow white supremacist groups, Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” and he refused to commit to urging his supporters to stay peaceful during the counting of votes.

The second debate was scrapped over COVID concerns

Their next debate, scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami, was scrapped altogether due to disagreement between the campaigns and the Commission on Presidential Debates over COVID-19 protocols.

Trump refused to debate virtually after he was diagnosed with the virus himself.

At the time, questions were mounting about whether Trump had taken a test — and gotten a positive result — before his first debate with Biden. It later became apparent that he had.

On Oct. 8, the commission announced it would shift to a virtual debate due to health and safety concerns. Trump’s team countered that he would be cleared for public events by then, saying there was “no medical reason” why the debate couldn’t be held in person.

Trump ultimately pulled out of the virtual debate, calling it “a waste of time.”

Each candidate ended up holding individual town halls — Trump on NBC News, Biden on ABC News — on Oct. 15, both airing at the same time.

The final debate was a little less dramatic

Trump and Biden returned to the debate stage in Nashville on Oct. 22, less than two weeks from Election Day.

By that point, more than 40 million Americans had already cast their votes by mail, Biden held a 10-point lead in an average of national polls, and only a small sliver of voters appeared willing to be persuaded.

The debate proved much less dramatic than the first round, partly due to new rules that kept each candidate’s microphone muted during the first two minutes of their opponent’s speaking time, and the no-nonsense approach of moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News.

Montanaro wrote, “Even Biden appeared bored, and near the end of the debate checked his watch.”

Both candidates were relatively restrained when talking about issues — COVID, healthcare and the economy dominated the conversation — though things got more personal as the night went on.

Read the full recap here.