Does the United States still require presidential debates?

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By Creative Media News

  • Biden, Trump agree to new debate format
  • Debates crucial for undecided voters
  • Debates test candidates’ policies, stamina

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have reached an unexpected, albeit perhaps precarious, agreement to restructure the presidential debate cycle this year. Breaking away from the Commission on Presidential Debates, Biden and Trump will compete in debates presented by CNN and ABC on June 27 and September 10, respectively.

However, many individuals need clarification on whether these gatherings are essential or beneficial. Recent presidential debates have correctly been criticized as poorly handled free-for-all affairs in which candidates, particularly Donald Trump, have trampled on moderators while spouting talking points and falsehoods that have not been fact-checked. While these charges are accurate, voters’ concerns about each of these two candidates make the presidential debates an especially crucial occasion.

Biden and Trump come into this race carrying unusual and escalating political baggage: an octogenarian and an autocrat, an alleged accomplice of war crimes and a convicted criminal. Both candidates need these debates to try to save themselves and their campaigns. They will have the opportunity to defend and comport themselves when they square up against each other and a panel of moderators later today and again in September. For many reluctant or indecisive voters, these discussions may be critical in deciding which candidate to support, even if many see it as selecting the least awful choice.

Trump, who began his 2020 re-election campaign almost as soon as he took office in 2017, has been relatively quiet publicly in the run-up to the election, except for Truth Social outbursts and a few media appearances in front of a New York courthouse during his three-week “hush money” trial. Trump never testified nor agreed to a lengthy interview with a neutral reporter about his legal difficulties. In fact, during months of litigation, he only interviewed journalists from a few sympathetic sites, such as Fox News and Newsmax, who asked him softball questions for pre-taped parts that were later edited to present him in the best possible light.

Of course, the former president has made his argument during his campaign rallies. Local fans continue to attend these gatherings, as do die-hard followers who follow him throughout the country like groupies for an ageing rock star. Trump’s crew has been cautious to place him in only the most welcoming environments, where he can repeat his lies and chastise his opponents without being challenged.

However, with the Biden campaign capitalizing on the fact that Trump may now be referred to as a convicted felon, Trump’s “witch hunt” charges are no longer as effective in moulding or muddying the debate surrounding his criminal prosecutions. The debates will finally put him on the spot to respond to the numerous charges levelled against him, and he cannot afford to pass up the opportunity to try to reclaim control of the narrative surrounding his legal difficulties.

Trump and his team understand that he will need to persuade sceptical but potentially sympathetic voters to support him, and they can see that he has struggled with this task. In May, Trump made a humiliating attempt to earn the support and maybe the candidacy of the Libertarian Party at their convention. He was severely booed, drowning out the screams of his followers who had come just for his speech, and ended up arguing with the audience before departing the stage. His recent outreach efforts to Black voters have been derided as plainly orchestrated gatherings with underwhelming attendance and no grassroots support.

The former president’s team cannot be pleased with these developments. Trump, being Trump, will try to wiggle his way out of his commitment to debate, just as he did with his promise to testify; he has already made outrageous demands, such as pre-debate drug testing for Joe Biden. However, if Trump hopes to persuade any of the undecided voters who will be critical to his electoral chances, he must find a way to avoid these debates with Biden.

Biden must avoid addressing tough questions in a public forum where his record will be scrutinized. Within his coalition, moderates may be most concerned with the economy’s steady but uneven recovery. At the same time, liberals may pragmatically vote for Biden based on women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and protecting democracy from Trump’s authoritarian tendencies. But for leftists who see Gaza as the defining issue, Biden’s backing for Israel may overwhelm his domestic accomplishments.

Lyndon Johnson’s legacy remains a cautionary tale for Biden’s team, who are likely aware of how Vietnam shattered his hopes for a second term despite his numerous accomplishments on civil rights, poverty alleviation, and racial justice. While Biden has not witnessed the massive drop in support as Johnson did, unhappiness at the margins could be enough to tip the scales in this close election. Even though November is a long way off in political terms, the last six months have shown that the president’s re-election prospects may be determined by the war in Gaza and how he approaches it.

Thus, the discussions of Biden and “his” war in Gaza, as they are portrayed, will be critical in two respects.

First, these incidents will allow him to seek to explain his policy. He would likely argue that his support for the Netanyahu government has allowed him to defend the Israeli state while limiting its actions. The debates will also allow Biden to compare and contrast his Gaza policy to any comments Trump makes about the war, which have thus far been hawkish but imprecise.

Second, Biden’s knowledge that he will be put in the spotlight to defend his policies adds pressure to change those policies, as his efforts to rein in Netanyahu appear to be failing. Biden and his pollsters are focusing on states like Michigan, where 100,000 Democratic voters declared themselves “uncommitted” in the February primary. Over the last few weeks, the Biden team has increased pressure for a cease-fire in Gaza. While a breakthrough does not appear imminent, Biden would appreciate receiving a positive update at the first or even walking into the second debate with a US-brokered truce.

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Even with these vast challenges looming for each candidate, there is no assurance that the debates will be an effective forum for providing clarity to the American public on these issues. The danger is that Biden will merely repeat his talking points, Trump will bloviate and prevaricate, and neither will be fact-checked in real-time. These inadequacies will be addressed by adjustments to the debate framework, such as eliminating a live audience and the power of moderators to mute candidates’ microphones if they attempt to speak out of turn or exceed their allotted time.

These events would still be valuable even if Biden and Trump could push their agendas during the debates. Perhaps more crucial than the candidates’ policy stances are their physical and mental capacities to serve as president for the next four years. Age has been a prominent issue of conversation in this election, with the two oldest presidents in American history facing off once more. Both campaigns and their surrogates have attempted to portray the rival candidate as mentally unfit for the post of president, highlighting or even fabricating gaffes to bolster their claims.

The formal presidential debates, rather than stage-managed campaign events or Biden’s State of the Union address, give voters the finest opportunity to assess each candidate’s physical stamina and mental acumen. The debates will undoubtedly be the only side-by-side comparison of the two guys. In an election where each side wants to rally its ambivalent base supporters, candidates can use this occasion to demonstrate their competence for the job. Many voters will base their 2024 selection on harm reduction and the least of two evils. The head-to-head comparison will help them decide which candidate to support in the autumn election.

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