May 17, 2024

Presidential Debates

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump on Wednesday agreed to hold two campaign debates — the first on June 27 hosted by CNN and the second on Sept. 10 hosted by ABC — setting the stage for their first presidential face-off to play out in just over a month.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left argues that the debates are necessary for Biden to convince voters he is still capable of governing.

“It is often possible to learn a great deal about the character and stamina of the candidates through how they perform. Just the way that the candidates fight each other gives a good flavor about how they conduct their business (see Trump menacingly prowling around the stage behind Hillary Clinton in 2016)…

“During the 2020 election, Biden was effective during the debates, pushing back against claims that he was too old for the presidency. Trump revealed much about himself, such as when he refused to condemn White supremacists and told the far-right group Proud Boys to ‘stand back and stand by,’ which they did until January 6, 2021.”

Julian Zelizer, CNN

“Biden’s age and mental fitness are top concerns for voters, and the prospect of the president struggling to speak extemporaneously before tens of millions of voters, in several debates, carries serious risk. But the superseding problem facing Biden right now is that he’s losing the presidential race…

“If Biden can’t make himself more popular—and can’t get New York courts to livestream the Trump trial—he needs to find a way to get the camera back squarely on Trump to remind voters why they despised Trump’s presidency. If the June debate goes well for Biden, it could provide the sort of jolt his campaign needs. If the September debate goes poorly, well, there will be time yet for voters to forget it.”

Jim Newell, Slate

“Sure, a debate could ensure his defeat—if the president is unable to rise to the oratorical occasion. But I think there’s a strong argument that it’s the only way he can win the election. Most importantly, it shows confidence. And I know from experience that the most important asset a presidential candidate can have is the perception of strength. And the worst thing they can have is the perception of weakness. Which is what Biden was dealing with until [Wednesday] morning…

“Unless and until Biden gets behind the podium and goes mano a mano against his nemesis, voters are going to assume that Biden is feeble and doesn’t deserve another term. And yes, there’s the danger that he gets manhandled by Trump and it’s game over…

“But if the president is unwilling to get in the arena and take down the bully, he doesn’t deserve another four years in the Oval Office anyway. It’s a dangerous and risky strategy. And it’s brilliant.”

Mark McKinnon, Vanity Fair

From the Right

The right argues that the arrangement is favorable to Biden, and urges Trump not to lower expectations for his opponent.

The right argues that the arrangement is favorable to Biden, and urges Trump not to lower expectations for his opponent.

“If you’re Trump, you want as many opportunities as possible for Biden to appear doddering and hapless before a large television audience, as close to when people cast their ballots as you can get… Instead, the first of only two debates this year will be held a week before the Fourth of July, when most people’s thoughts are focused on summer vacations, three months before anybody casts a ballot early…

“Then the second and final presidential debate will occur the week after Labor Day, when kids are getting back to school. If the Biden team aimed to pick two times of year when Americans will be least tuned-in to the political world and the news cycle, they did quite well.”

Jim Geraghty, Washington Post

“There are plenty of risks for Biden in the upcoming debates. There will be verbal flubs, memory lapses, and half-truths or outright falsehoods the president seems to have fully internalized. But if the standard set for his success is merely to string ‘two sentences together,’ Biden will more than meet that measure…  

“Much like the State of the Union, the president will be well-rested and primed with all the requisite medications necessary to ensure that he turns in an energetic performance. Trump and company should not be lowering the expectations for Biden ahead of the debate but raising them… With weeks to prepare, Biden may be up for one debate, but he’s not up to the presidency. That’s what we should be hearing from the Trump camp.”

Noah Rothman, National Review

“Let’s hope the moderators are fair-minded, but don’t underestimate how hard that will be given the heavily anti-Trump culture of both media organizations. The pressure will be great on any moderator to fact-check or rebuke, as we’ve seen in previous debates. The better strategy is to let the candidates fact-check each other, rather than forcing one candidate to debate the other and the media hall monitor at the same time…

“Also unfortunate is that the two campaigns seem to have agreed to freeze out third parties, notably Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is polling in the low teens. Mr. Kennedy isn’t remotely qualified for the Presidency, and his views are often way out there. But his polling reflects how unhappy most voters are with the two major party candidates. His presence could challenge both men to do more than merely attack the other as a threat to democracy, or all of humanity.”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Get troll-free political news.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please email us at if you continue to have issues!