DemDaily: The Debate Download

June 24, 2024

For what is likely the most consequential presidential debate in modern history, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will go face-to-face this Thursday, June 27 for the first time nearly four years.

The debate, which is hosted by CNN and will take place in Atlanta, is the first of two general election debates. The second, hosted by ABC News, will take place September 10.

The GOP nominating convention is July 15-18 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the Democratic convention is August 19-22 in Chicago, Illinois.

Trump refused to debate any of his primary opponents, and Biden largely ignored his taunting to debate until last month when the President released a feisty video response accepting the invitation.

It ended with Biden saying, "I hear you are open on Wednesdays" -- a reference to Trump's only day off from court in his criminal hush money trial where he faces 34 counts of falsifying business records.

Within 24 hours the campaigns had agreed to the terms -- primarily dictated by the Biden campaign.

Historically, presidential debates are managed by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) -- the nonprofit established by both parties which has sponsored and produced presidential debates since 1988.

The candidates departed from the tradition to hold what will be the earliest presidential debate in American history -- prior to the beginning of early voting and before they formally accept their party’s nominations.

It also significantly raises the stakes: A misstep by one or both candidates could impact the trajectory of the race where polling numbers have stagnated among a nearly evenly divided electorate.

The Rules
The most significant departure from the traditional format is the absence of an audience to ensure the integrity of the event, minus the interference of audience reaction and shouting.

The change disadvantages Trump, who is fueled by his outspoken fans and has sowed chaos in past debates by "playing to the crowd."

In another nod to maintaining control of candidates and the room, microphones will be cut off if a candidate speaks out of turn.

Candidates will be provided with a pen, pad of paper and water bottle, but no props or pre-written notes will be permitted on stage, and the candidates won't be allowed to interact with campaign staff during the event's two commercial breaks.

"Biden has successfully child-proofed the debate stage for former President Trump, who is responsible for this uncivil tone on the stage...Biden has rendered a public service, he and his team, in bringing some constraints to the debate to actually allow there to be a conversation that is not simply performative. American Democracy is not a reality show." - Historian John Mecham, ABC This Week 6/23/24

Biden won the coin toss to decide either the order of the candidates’ closing statements or their podium position.

The president selected the right podium, placing Trump to the left of viewers’ screens, and Trump will deliver the last closing statement.

There will be no opening statements, The moderators, CNN network anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, will launch directly into the question to Biden and Trump, who will have two minutes each for answers. One minute is allocated for rebuttals and one minute for responses to the rebuttals.

To qualify for the debate, the candidates had to:

  • Meet the requirements outlined in Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution to serve as president which requires that a candidate be 35 years old and a natural-born citizen of the US
  • File a formal statement of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission
  • Appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidency
  • Receive at least 15% in four separate national polls of registered or likely voters that meet CNN’s standards

Third-party candidates Independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West and Green Party nominee Jill Stein did not meet all qualifications. Kennedy filed a complaint with the FEC alleging that Biden, Trump, and CNN were illegally working together to keep him off the debate stage. Stein has also submitted an FEC complaint.

In the interim, the Biden-Harris campaign last week announced a historic $50 million paid media campaign targeting voters in battleground states -- for the month of June alone.

The campaign released a new ad, “Character Matters,” that lays out the choice Americans will see on the debate stage: President Biden, who is fighting for the American people every day, and convicted felon Donald Trump who is fighting for himself.

This week, the Biden-Harris campaign is mobilizing voters and organizers with over 300 watch parties and over 1,600 organizing events, including key surrogates in the battlegrounds.

A June 21-23 Morning Consult poll of registered voters showed Biden and Trump in a dead heat at 44% each. 8% preferred someone else and 4% had no opinion (MOE +/- 1%).

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Politico, CNN, Washington Post, FiveThirtyEight, ABC

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