Anne Sandager
4 weeks ago

Analysis: New Debate Rules Favor Biden

New rules announced for the June 27th debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump serves the President well.
Silhouette of Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden — Illustration by
Silhouette of Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden — Illustration by

The historic ‘summer debate’ between presidential candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump is less than a week away, and CNN has announced a new set of debate rules that have pundits talking. The consensus view is that the structure of the June 27 match-up will be a net-benefit to Biden. Here are the changes that could tilt the advantage to the Democrat camp: 

No audience: Unlike the traditional format of debates organized by the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates, there will be no live audience present to cheer for the candidates. This was a key demand by the Biden camp, who has justified the requirement saying “Trump feeds off the crowd, they give him life”, according to Politico. Trump is effective in playing to spectators and derailing the topic of conversation. During debates, audience members are usually not allowed to cheer or clap, but especially Trump supporters have had a hard time sticking to the guidelines. So now the Biden camp have had enough, and CNN are following suit. In a quiet tv-studio, Biden won’t have to compete as much for attention, Democratic aides have also commented that the new format will alleviate the Presidents’ issue hearing through crowds.

Muted mics: In an additional effort to wheel in the contestants, CNN will mute the microphones of candidates when it’s not their turn to speak. It’s no secret that the Trump camp is hoping to use debates to knock Biden out of balance. Getting under the President’s skin with provocations and frequent interruptions is the best way to make him stumble. Muted mics significantly helps remedy that situation. CNN has decided to scrap opening statements as well, which will serve more or less the same purpose. 

Commercial breaks: Presidential debates usually go 90 minutes uninterrupted, but CNN plans to leverage the anticipated high viewership to sell ads during two commercial breaks. Candidates are not allowed to consult with their campaign teams during the pause, but for the two aging candidates, the intermissions provide a welcome break to re-energize and re-focus. 

Addressing candidates directly: CNN has extended one olive branch to the Trump camp. Under normal presidential debate rules, candidates are not allowed to address each other directly to maintain the civilized discussion. That barrier has been removed, and Trump will now be in his full right to use his talent for insults to undermine Biden. The change all but ensures a more confrontational debate, which might be good for the entertainment value but could be a problem for a substantial policy discussion.


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