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Anticipating the 2024 Presidential Debates – Or Perhaps Not

Past debates have produced some defining moments, but what about this year?

After the invention of television, it was inevitable that live televised presidential debates would become a big thing. Throughout the decades, some of these verbal jousting matches have produced a lot of memorable – and in some cases, perhaps even defining – moments. In 2024, assuming Joe Biden agrees to debate presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump at least once, Biden might well provide the defining moment. As it stands in mid-April, the number and timing of these events is up in the air.

The Commission on Presidential Debates says that three on-stage showdowns between the candidates, plus one vice-presidential debate, will be held later this year, but it’s not a sure thing that the Biden campaign will commit to any of that.

The Trump team, meanwhile, has agreed to the debates and wants more of them – but earlier in the year. The reasoning is obvious: Joe Biden likely does not have the physical or mental stamina for more than two debates – and perhaps not for even one – if his demeanor and behavior over the past three years is anything to go by.

Additionally, Trump wants to ensure everyone gets to witness the debates before early voting begins. Trump’s campaign co-managers, Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles, wrote in a letter to the commission that scheduling the presidential debates earlier on the calendar would “ensure more Americans have a full chance to see the candidates before they start voting … “

Wiles and LaCivita project that more than a million Americans will have cast their ballots before September 16, the planned date of the first debate. They assert that millions more will vote by the time the second potential debate rolls around on October 1.

Presidential Debates Gone By

In October of 1976, the Republican White House incumbent, Gerald Ford, during a debate with Jimmy Carter, asserted: “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” It was, of course, an utterly ridiculous statement and it became the textbook example of how to lose a debate, and possibly even an election.

In 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter’s challenger, Ronald Reagan, famously asked the question: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” In 2000, Democrat presidential candidate Al Gore did himself no favors by pouting and sighing his way through a debate with the man who would go on to win the election, George W. Bush. During a 2016 debate – though perhaps not a defining moment, but certainly memorable – Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton expressed her relief that “someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.” Trump responded, “because you’d be in jail.”

If there is even one 2024 debate, the urge to imagine what might transpire is irresistible. Will Biden’s undeniable cognitive decline be on display for all to see? Or will the debate be so carefully stage-managed as to eliminate any possibility of that? The current occupant of the White House has become a gaffe machine with a rapidly deteriorating memory and an apparently increasing tendency to recount imaginary episodes and achievements from both his personal life and his political career. It should come as no surprise, then, if the most memorable moment from the 2024 presidential debates turns out to be their absence.

Read More From Graham J Noble

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