Biden and Trump to Clash in Early Presidential Debate: What to Expect and How to Watch

Featured & Cover Biden and Trump to Clash in Early Presidential Debate What to Expect and How to Watch

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are set to face off in the first presidential debate of the 2024 general election on Thursday night in Atlanta. This debate marks a new phase in the race, less than five months before Election Day on November 5, with the candidates in a virtual tie according to the latest NPR/PBS News/Marist poll. This trend has been consistent in recent national surveys.

Breaking from tradition, this debate takes place months earlier than usual and features a new set of rules agreed upon by both candidates, including the absence of a live audience. This will be the first debate of the campaign season for both candidates; Biden ran largely unopposed, and Trump skipped the GOP primary debates.

Debate Details

The debate will start at 9 p.m. ET and run for 90 minutes, moderated by CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash at the network’s studios in Atlanta. It will be available on CNN and the streaming platform Max (formerly HBO). Those without a cable login can watch on CNN’s website. NPR will provide live updates and a livestream of the debate.


Biden and Trump are the only candidates who qualified for the debate. Independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. did not meet the threshold, which required candidates to poll at 15% or higher in four national surveys and appear on enough state ballots to theoretically secure the 270 Electoral College votes needed for the presidency.

Unique Aspects of This Debate

Unlike previous presidential debates that occur in front of a live audience, often at college or university campuses, and coordinated by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), this year’s debates will not follow that tradition. Both candidates opted out of the CPD’s scheduled debates in favor of earlier matchups.

Thursday’s debate will be hosted by CNN, with a second debate scheduled for September, hosted by ABC News. The agreed-upon rules include muted microphones unless a candidate is directed to speak, no prewritten notes or props (only a pen, paper, and bottle of water are allowed), and a coin toss to determine podium positions and the order of closing statements. Biden’s campaign won the coin toss and chose the podium to the viewers’ right, while Trump’s team opted to deliver the final closing statement.

Key Points to Watch

Both candidates are expected to address their recent legal issues. Trump was found guilty of 34 criminal charges in New York about a month ago, while Biden’s son, Hunter, was convicted on felony gun charges in Delaware in mid-June and faces a second federal trial in September for failing to pay taxes.

Biden is likely to address concerns about his age and ability to serve a second term. At 81, he is the oldest sitting president in U.S. history, and if re-elected, he would leave office at 86. While Biden has had public slipups during his first term, Trump, who is 78, has frequently criticized Biden’s mental capability, even suggesting a cognitive test. Ironically, Trump misnamed the doctor who conducted his cognitive exam while he was president in a recent speech.

Regarding issues, the debate will likely cover the economy and immigration policy, top concerns for voters according to national polls. International politics might also be discussed, given the divided opinions on U.S. military aid to Ukraine and Israel.

Biden may use the debate to address declining support among key voter demographics compared to 2020, particularly Blacks, Latinos, and young voters. Trump, on the other hand, is losing support among older voters, which Biden’s campaign aims to exploit. Trump may also need to mend relations with Nikki Haley supporters who are hesitant to back him again.

Upcoming Events

In the coming weeks, Trump is expected to announce his vice presidential pick. There will also be a vice presidential debate this summer, with Vice President Kamala Harris agreeing to a debate on either July 23 or August 13.

Legally, Trump faces sentencing in his criminal trial on July 11, just days before the Republican National Convention on July 15 in Milwaukee. The Democratic National Convention will follow a month later, starting on August 19 in Chicago. Biden and Trump will have a second debate on September 10.

The debate this Thursday is not just an early clash but a critical moment in an extremely close race. It offers both candidates a significant platform to address their legal issues, policy positions, and voter concerns as they vie for the presidency in a divided nation.

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