Election 2024: CNN debate is an unprecedented opportunity for Biden and Trump

ATLANTA (AP) – President Joe Biden and his Republican rival, Donald Trumpwill meet Thursday for a debate that offers an unprecedented opportunity for both candidates to attempt to reshape the political narrative.

Biden, the outgoing Democratic president, has the opportunity to reassure voters that, at 81 years old, he is capable to guide the United States through a series of challenges. Trump, 78, could use the moment to try to move on his felony conviction in New York and convince an audience of tens of millions that he has a temperament fit to return to the Oval Office.

Biden and Trump enter the night facing fierce headwinds, including a public weary of the tumult of partisan politics. Both candidates are not liked by the majority of Americans, according to voteand offer very different visions on virtually all fundamental questions. Trump promised Ambitious plans to overhaul the US government if he returns to the White House and Biden maintains that his opponent would pose an existential threat to national democracy.

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With just over four months until Election Day, their performances have the rare potential to alter the trajectory of the race. Every word and gesture will be analyzed not only for what the two men say, but also for how they interact with each other and how they resist pressure.

“Debates tend not to change voters’ perceptions in a way that would change their vote: They generally reinforce, not persuade,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and presidential communications expert. “What makes this debate different is that there are essentially two incumbents that voters have very strong opinions about. But that doesn’t mean those perceptions are accurate or match what voters will see on stage.”

The debate marks a series of firsts

Trump and Biden have not been on the same stage or even spoken since their last debate a few weeks before the 2020 presidential election. Trump skipped Biden’s inauguration after leading a unprecedented and unsuccessful effort to cancel his defeat against Biden culminated in the January 6 Capitol insurrection by his supporters.

Thursday’s televised debate on CNN will be the earliest in general election history. It is the first televised presidential debate hosted by a single media outlet after both campaigns. abandoned the Bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debateswhich had organized all the matches since 1988.

According to network rules, independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. did not qualify.

In an effort to avoid a repeat of their chaotic 2020 clashes, Biden insisted – and Trump agreed – to hold the debate without an audience and to allow the network to mute the candidates’ microphones when it was not their turn to speak. talk. There will be two commercial breaks, another departure from modern practice. The candidates agreed not to consult staff or others when the cameras are off.

AP Washington correspondent Sagar Meghani reports that tonight’s Biden-Trump presidential debate has huge stakes.

The timeline tracks steps both candidates have taken to respond to national trends toward early voting by moving up the political calendar. It remains to be seen whether the advanced schedule will mitigate the effects of possible missteps or crystallize them in the public mind.

“You have two men who haven’t debated in four years,” said Phillippe Reines, a Democratic political consultant who helped former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepare for debates with Trump in 2016.

Biden and Trump, he said, “don’t like each other, haven’t seen each other, (are) pretty rusty heading into the biggest night of their lives.” That pretty much sums up the issues for Thursday.”

Both sides recognize the stakes

The debate falls a few days later the second anniversary of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, ending federally guaranteed abortion rights and putting reproductive rights at the center of politics ever since.

The faceoff also takes place right after Biden takes the White House. executive action to restrict asylum applications at the border between the United States and Mexico, in an effort to reduce the number of migrants entering the country. Trump has made illegal immigration a central plank of his campaign.

The wars in Ukraine and Gaza threaten the race, as do the candidates’ widely divergent views on America’s role in the world and its alliances. Differences in inflation, tax policy and public investments to build infrastructure and combat climate change will provide further contrasts.

Also in the political context: the Supreme Court is about to about to announce his decision on whether Trump is legally immune for his alleged role in the January 6 insurrection. It comes weeks after Trump was convicted in New York of participating in a hush money scheme that prosecutors say was intended to illegally influence the 2016 election.

Biden spent the week before the debate isolated at Camp David with senior White House officials and campaign aides as well as a coterie of longtime advisers and allies. A mock stage was built at the compound to simulate the studio where the debate will be held, and Biden’s personal lawyer Bob Bauer reprized his role as Trump during the practice sessions.

Aides say the work reflects Biden’s understanding that he cannot afford a flat show. They insist that the speaker, sometimes heavy, would be up to the task.

Trump, meanwhile, continued his less structured debate preparation with two days of meetings at his Florida estate, calling allies and supporters, and testing his attacks in social media posts and media interviews of conservative tendency. The disorganized style that characterizes the former president’s often disjointed rally speeches could pose a challenge in a regimented, tightly timed debate.

Trump and his aides have spent months chronicling what they see as signs of Biden’s waning stamina. In recent days, they began predicting that Biden would be stronger on Thursday, aiming to raise expectations for the outgoing president.

Candidates have Georgia in mind

Atlanta, the host city of the debate, offers symbolic and practical significance to the campaign, but each side believes that what happens there will resonate everywhere.

In 2020, Biden secured Georgia’s 16 electoral votes with a margin of less than 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast. Trump pushed the state’s Republican leaders to overturn his victory based on false theories of voter fraud. to be filmed saying he wanted to “find 11,780 votes.” He now faces state racketeering charges.

Both campaigns have held a series of events in Atlanta leading up to the debate, including competing events at local Black-owned businesses. Trump called a rally Friday at Rocky’s Barbershop in the Buckhead community to talk about his matchup with Biden and question whether CNN moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash would treat him fairly.

Coming out of the debate, Biden and Trump will travel to states they hope to pass this fall. Trump is heading to Virginia, a former battleground that has shifted toward Democrats in recent years.

Biden is expected to fly to North Carolina, where he is expected to hold the largest rally of his campaign in a state that Trump narrowly won in 2020.


Miller, Superville and Weissert reported from Washington and Price from New York. AP video journalist Nathan Ellgren in Washington contributed to this report.

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