Joe Biden and Donald Trump Agree to New Debate Schedule

Presidential Debates Shift Away from Traditional Format

by Faruk Imamovic
Joe Biden and Donald Trump Agree to New Debate Schedule
© Getty Images/Win McNamee

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have agreed to participate in two presidential debates outside the traditional framework set by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). The candidates will face off on June 27 on CNN and again on September 10 in a debate broadcast by ABC News. This development follows Biden's earlier announcement that he would not adhere to the customary fall debates organized by the CPD.

A New Debate Landscape

President Biden's decision to step away from the CPD's established format marks a departure from a decades-old tradition of three fall debates. The CPD has orchestrated presidential debates since 1988, aiming to provide a neutral platform for candidates. However, Biden's campaign chair, Jen O’Malley Dillon, emphasized the need for debates that prioritize American voters rather than creating large spectacles with live audiences. "The Commission’s model of building huge spectacles with large audiences at great expense simply isn’t necessary or conducive to good debates," she stated.

The first of the two newly agreed-upon debates will take place on CNN in Atlanta. This event will be conducted without a live audience and will welcome any presidential candidate who consistently polls above 15% in approved public surveys and is listed on enough state ballots to potentially secure a majority of the Electoral College votes. While the moderator for this debate has yet to be announced, it is clear that this new format aims to foster a more focused and voter-oriented discussion.

Calls for More Debates

Trump’s campaign has called for additional debates, with Trump himself expressing a strong willingness to participate. On Truth Social, Trump declared, “I am Ready and Willing to Debate Crooked Joe at the two proposed times... Just tell me when, I’ll be there.” This statement underscores the former president’s eagerness to engage Biden on the debate stage, contrasting sharply with the traditional three-debate format maintained by the CPD.

Biden has countered with a proposal for a separate vice-presidential debate to take place in July, between the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions. This suggests a more flexible and dynamic approach to the debate schedule, potentially accommodating the changing needs and circumstances of the campaigns and the electorate.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump Agree to New Debate Schedule
Joe Biden and Donald Trump Agree to New Debate Schedule© Getty Images

Behind the Scenes Negotiations

The public agreement on these debates follows weeks of private discussions between officials from the Biden and Trump campaigns. These negotiations have been characterized by a desire to establish debate terms outside the CPD's purview. According to sources familiar with the discussions, both camps have sought to create a debate framework that avoids the perceived shortcomings of past CPD-hosted events.

This strategic shift was partly influenced by frustrations from the Biden camp over the CPD’s handling of the 2020 debates. Notably, Biden's team was discontented with the CPD's failure to enforce agreed-upon COVID-19 protocols and to manage disruptions during the debates. These grievances have fueled the push for a new debate structure.

The CPD’s Evolving Role

Despite the candidates' new plans, the CPD remains a significant player in the debate landscape. The commission has already scheduled three presidential and one vice-presidential debate for the upcoming election cycle, starting with a presidential debate on September 16 in Texas. This event, like those organized since the CPD's inception, is intended to provide a balanced and fair platform for candidates.

The CPD, an independent nonprofit with a bipartisan board, has expressed optimism that its system will continue to play a vital role. Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., a co-chair of the CPD and former Republican National Committee chairman, has voiced confidence in the commission’s ability to remain a neutral arbiter. "We do a pretty good job of walking down the middle," Fahrenkopf stated.

A Historical Context

Televised presidential debates have been a fixture of American politics since 1960, when Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy squared off in the first televised debate. However, it was not until the CPD's formation in 1987 that a standardized system was established to manage these crucial electoral events.

Over the years, the CPD has set criteria for candidate participation, such as achieving at least 15% support in national polls and being on enough state ballots to win a majority of the Electoral College votes. The commission has also been responsible for selecting debate locations, moderators, and formats, striving to ensure a fair and informative process.

Despite these efforts, the CPD has faced criticism from both major parties. In recent years, Republicans have accused the CPD of bias, particularly following the 2020 election cycle. The Republican National Committee announced in 2022 that it would withdraw from the CPD’s debate system, citing concerns over the commission's handling of debate scheduling and format issues.

The Road Ahead

As Biden and Trump prepare for their upcoming debates, the landscape of presidential debates appears to be shifting. By negotiating debate terms directly, the campaigns are seeking to create a more controlled and voter-focused environment. This new approach aims to address the criticisms and challenges faced in previous debate cycles, potentially setting a precedent for future presidential elections.

The CNN debate in June and the ABC debate in September will be closely watched, not only for the candidates' performances but also for the effectiveness of this new debate format. 

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