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All the Details on Trump & Biden’s Weirdly Early 2024 Debate

by California Digital News

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photo: Getty Images

The 2024 election is odd in multiple ways. Joe Biden and Donald Trump both clinched their party’s nomination way earlier than usual. They’re the oldest major-party presidential candidates ever. This is the first rematch between two presidents in more than 100 years. Oh, and one of the candidates is now a convicted felon.

The two candidates turned up the weird factor even more in May when Biden publicly dared Trump to debate him (using the phrase “Well, make my day, pal.”) Within hours, the two were set to debate in June and September.

We’ve never seen a debate process quite like this — and yet, we also watched these two guys face off just four years ago. Here’s what you need to know heading into the unprecedented-yet-very-precedented first presidential debate of 2024.

The first presidential debate of 2024 will be on June 27, 2024 at 9 p.m. ET. The debate will be hosted by CNN, and will be filmed at the network’s studios in Atlanta, Georgia.

The 90-minute debate will air on various CNN properties, and be simulcast on other networks that have yet to be announced. Per the CNN press release:

The CNN Presidential Debate will air live on CNN, CNN International, CNN en Español, CNN Max and stream without a cable login on CNN will make the debate available to simulcast on additional broadcast and cable news networks in the United States.

Other networks can simulcast the debate for free, but they have to leave CNN’s watermark on the screen.

All previous televised presidential debates took place in late September or October. But the Biden team wanted to remind tuned-out Americans that there’s a presidential election this year, and that it could put Trump back in the White House. Per the New York Times:

The move was meant to jolt Americans to attention sooner than later about their consequential choice in 2024. Mr. Biden’s advisers have long believed that the dawning realization of a Trump-Biden rematch will be a balm for the president’s droopy approval ratings.

The earlier date also gives the two elderly, gaffe-prone candidates more time to recover from any debate missteps.

Commission on Presidential Debates had hosted the debates since 1988. But both Biden and Trump decided not to cooperate with the independent, nonprofit group this year. Instead, they agreed to two debates hosted by single media outlets. Per the New York Times:

For the first time in decades, a single television network will have sole discretion over the look, feel and cadence of a general-election presidential debate … CNN has picked the moderators, designed the set and will choose the camera angles that viewers see.

CNN anchors Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.

David Chailian, CNN’s political director, suggested that Tapper and Bash won’t be doing much fact-checking during the broadcast. He told the New York Times that they will be “facilitating the debate between these candidates, not being a participant in that debate.”

According to CNN:

• The candidates will not be able to interact with their campaign staff during the debate, which will be 90 minutes long with two commercial breaks. There will be no studio audience.

• The network says moderators “will use all tools at their disposal to enforce timing and ensure a civilized discussion.”

• The candidates’ microphones will only be turned on when it is their turn to speak; and remain muted at other times.

• They will not be allowed to bring pre-written notes or props to the podium, but will be given a pad of paper and a pen (and a bottle of water).

• Which (identical) podium each candidate stands at will be decided by a coin toss.

On June 20, CNN announced that Biden will stand at the righthand podium and Trump will speak last. This was hashed out after Biden won the coin flip:

The coin landed on the Biden campaign’s pick — tails — which meant his campaign got to choose whether it wanted to select the president’s podium position or the order of closing statements.

Biden’s campaign chose to select the right podium position, which means the Democratic president will be on the right side of television viewers’ screens and his Republican rival will be on viewers’ left.

Trump’s campaign then chose for the former president to deliver the last closing statement, which means Biden will go first at the conclusion of the debate.

Only Biden and Trump — which may be part of the reason both campaigns agreed to go around the Commission on Presidential Debates. Biden’s public challenge was somewhat for show; the Times reported that the Democratic and Republican campaigns had hammered out debate terms beforehand, as they wanted to “face off directly, without Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or other independent or third-party candidates.”

No. CNN published an article on June 20 saying that only Biden and Trump were in: “The debate qualification window closed at 12:00:01 a.m. ET on Thursday, with Biden and Trump meeting the constitutional, ballot qualification and polling thresholds set by the network.”

CNN’s rules state that participants must qualify for the presidency under the Constitution and have filed a formal statement of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission. Five candidates have done so: Biden, Trump, Kennedy, Cornel West, and Jill Stein.

The part where things got tricky for the Kennedy, West, and Stein was the requirements that their names appear on enough state ballots to potentially reach 270 electoral votes, and that they receive at least 15 percent in four national polls selected by CNN. West and Stein have been averaging less than two percent in the polls, so it was clear from the start that they wouldn’t qualify.

Kennedy’s RealClearPolitics polling average is just over 9 percent in a five-way race or 10 percent in a three-way race. So there was a slim chance that he could hit the 15 percent polling threshold. But as the New York Times reported, he was one poll short:

To qualify, Mr. Kennedy needed to earn at least 15 percent support in four approved national polls. By Thursday, however, he had only three such polls — one from CNN, one from Quinnipiac University and one from Marquette University Law School.

While RFK Jr. had claimed that he’s on the ballot in enough states to qualify for the debate. But a Washington Post analysis published on June 18 said that’s not true, and the Times reached the same conclusion:

Mr. Kennedy also needed to be officially on the ballot in enough states that he could win 270 votes in the Electoral College — the threshold for winning the presidency. As of Thursday, Mr. Kennedy had less than a third of that number, according to an analysis by The New York Times. He is officially on the ballot in only six states — California, Delaware, Hawaii, Michigan, Oklahoma and Utah — totaling 89 Electoral College votes.

Here’s CNN’s full criteria:

To qualify for participation, candidates must fulfill the requirements outlined in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States; file a Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission; a candidate’s name must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidency prior to the eligibility deadline; agree to accept the rules and format of the debate; and receive at least 15% in four separate national polls of registered or likely voters that meet CNN’s standards for reporting.

Polls that meet CNN editorial standards and will be considered qualifying polls include those sponsored by: CNN, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, Marquette University Law School, Monmouth University, NBC News, the New York Times/Siena College, NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College, Quinnipiac University, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.

The polling window to determine eligibility for the debate opened March 13, 2024, and closes seven days before the date of the debate.

Probably not, but he’s giving it a try. On May 28 he filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing Biden and Trump of illegally colluding with CNN to keep him off the debate stage. In the complaint RFK Jr. claims CNN’s debate violates the Federal Election Campaign Act. As New York’s Ed Kilgore explained, Kennedy’s effort probably won’t work:

…. there’s no legal principle whereby CNN can’t set whatever rules it wants. Team Kennedy is likely working the refs and counting on public pressure to convince CNN to relax its ballot-access criteria on grounds that it creates a double standard benefiting major-party candidates who won’t officially qualify for a single ballot before July (when Republicans formally nominate Trump) and August (when Biden will become the Democratic nominee).

Even if Kennedy gets his way with CNN, there’s a decent chance the Biden campaign could withdraw its own pledge to participate since it didn’t bargain for a three-cornered event (the Trump campaign has not objected to Kennedy’s participation, which may be an indication as to whose candidacy he is more likely to hurt or help in the end).

Biden hasn’t publicly commented on debating Kennedy. Trump has offered contradictory remarks on the subject. In a June 7 Fox News interview Trump claimed he’d “love” to debate Kennedy, but suggested he doesn’t want the polling threshold lowered to let him in. Per the Daily Beast:

“And I’d love to have Kennedy in the debate, too,” he then said. “I think it’s important to have him. The problem is, his poll numbers are terrible.”

“So there should be a threshold for him?” Hannity asked.

“Yeah, sure,” Trump replied. “It should be, probably I think they have it at like 20 or 25 percent or something. But his numbers are lousy and they seem to be getting worse. But I don’t mind having him in the debate. I think it would be good.”

Both Biden and Trump are doing less debate prep than you’d expect (or at least, that’s the message they’re sending).

A Biden campaign official told Axios, “The president will have less time for debate prep than four years ago given his day job, so prep will largely be confined to immediately prior.” Politico reported that Biden will start preparing on June 20, one week before the debate:

Biden has not yet done a formal debate prep session, though he is slated to head to Camp David on Thursday night, where preparations are expected to begin in earnest. Ron Klain, Biden’s longtime adviser and his first White House chief of staff, is involved in the preparations.

Trump is not planning to hold formal debate practice, in which someone plays Biden. Instead he has reportedly held a series of “policy discussions” to refresh himself on the issues. As Politico notes, Trump also referenced the upcoming debate multiple times during a rally on Saturday:

He mocked Biden for holing up behind closed doors at Camp David to prepare for the debate, suggesting the president would turn to illicit substances to boost his performance. He disparaged CNN debate moderators Dana Bash and Jake Tapper, whom he called “Fake Tapper,” to boos from the crowd gathered at an arena on Temple University’s campus. … Trump even attempted to crowd-source suggestions for how he should approach Biden: Should he “be tough and nasty” toward his Democratic rival or should he “be nice and calm and let him speak?” (After some crowd reaction, Trump indicated he was favoring the former.)

The second debate is scheduled for September 10 and will be hosted by ABC News.

This post has been updated.

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