The Weird CNN Rule for the First Trump-Biden Debate

The first presidential debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump is coming up on June 27.

CNN, in negotiation with the campaigns, has released a newly revised list of rules that both candidates have agreed to. This debate, set in CNN’s Atlanta studio, will lack a live audience and also feature several other unconventional rules that may create a different vibe when compared to previous debates:

The 90-minute debate will include two commercial breaks, according to the network, and campaign staff may not interact with their candidate during that time.

Both candidates agreed to appear at a uniform podium, and their podium positions will be determined by a coin flip.

Microphones will be muted throughout the debate except for the candidate whose turn it is to speak. While no props or pre-written notes will be allowed on the stage, candidates will be given a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water.

Some aspects of the debate – including the absence of a studio audience – will be a departure from previous debates. But, as in the past, the moderators “will use all tools at their disposal to enforce timing and ensure a civilized discussion,” according to the network.

There are a few changes that stick out and will inevitably cause this debate to feel more like the Covid-era debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders than your typical presidential debate.

First, there’s no audience which will mean no instant feedback or reaction to whatever good or bad thing either man says. That’s a plus for Biden but I don’t think this is the worst of changes. The debate is meant for the consumption of millions of TV viewers, not the few hundred people filling an auditorium.

The most glaring change concerns muted microphones when it’s not the candidate’s turn to speak. In other words, no interruptions while Biden is claiming inflation was happening before he even took office, a lie he often repeats that’s been busted time and time again, for example.

This might create a more civil debate but it will also mean that Biden’s canned responses and exaggerations will be allowed to sail into the ether with no response or immediate rebuttal from Trump.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s best to let Biden keep talking since that’s when he tends to hang himself on his own words. When he’s off-script, which will be for the majority of the debate outside the expected questions, he tends to lose focus and start veering into some odd territory.

The format laid out by CNN, with two moderators who are openly hostile to Trump, will naturally favor Joe Biden.

Trump is going into the lion’s den and he knows.

Nate Ashworth

The Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for over a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016 that continues today.

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