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The Left-Wing Media Frets Over Presidential Debates

Beyond the ratings windfall, some could be dreading Trump-Biden TV showdown.

Will American voters get to see presidential debates in 2024? Currently, nobody really knows the answer to that question even though the Commission on Presidential Debates has created a schedule. The first face-off between the two presumptive nominees – incumbent Joe Biden and challenger Donald Trump – is slated for Monday, Sept. 16. While the television networks appear anxious for the debates to go ahead, there seems to be something of an emerging campaign by left-leaning print and digital media outlets to shield Biden from having to take the stage for direct verbal confrontations with his predecessor and would-be successor.

On April 14, 11 prominent news organizations issued a joint statement urging presidential candidates to publicly commit to a series of televised debates. CBS, CNN, ABC News, Fox News Media, and several other organizations argue that the stakes in this election are “exceptionally high” and that “there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation.”

One hardly needs a master’s degree in communications to figure out why these news companies want the debates to go ahead: Televised Trump-Biden grudge-matches are sure to be ratings gold. It is beginning to look, however, as though a lot of Biden supporters in the world of digital and print journalism are less enthusiastic about the idea. A quick internet search for “presidential debates 2024” throws out a list of articles that attempt to rationalize, in various ways, the argument against presidential debates. Unsurprisingly, each one of these articles focuses on Trump, and why he is supposedly unworthy to share a stage with the current occupant of the White House. Examples include:

  • Why Biden Should Not Debate Trump – The Atlantic, April 16
  • Have presidential debates outlived their usefulness? – The Boston Globe, April 15
  • TV networks want Biden and Trump to debate. What’s the point? – Poynter., April 10

In The Atlantic article, David Frum argued that Trump should not be given “equal status on a TV stage” to Biden because to do so “would be a dire normalization of [Trump’s] attempted coup.” The opinion piece from Poynter. is at least a more honest and less hysterical argument – agree with it or not. Presidential debates have become a tradition, the author posited, and they are very important – just perhaps not this time around because, “In the end, there is a risk that Trump won’t play by the rules and any debate will skid off the rails.”

Presidential Debates Perilous for Biden?

That was a common thread running through many of these media articles: that Trump “won’t play by the rules” of presidential debates. The unavoidable suspicion, of course, is that the authors of these articles know full well that Biden has a potentially career-ending problem. His undeniable cognitive decline in recent years renders him incapable of holding his own against Trump in anything but the most rigidly controlled and staged-managed event. The rules by which Trump might refuse to play are perhaps those these journalists hope would be put in place to make the debates as accommodating as possible to Biden. They would leave little or no room for mistakes on his part – or for any appearance that he is not up to the task.

It’s a theory supported by former Biden White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain’s recent appearance on MSNBC. Speaking with Jen Psaki – a former White House press secretary under Biden who now hosts her own show on the network — Klain said:

“I think what we have to see is something different than we saw in 2016 and 2020, where the debate commission lost control of the debates. Trump didn’t follow the rules at all. He talked over his opponents. There wasn’t a fair division of time. It was more a spectacle than a debate. That’s always going to be true with Donald Trump on the stage.”

Klain went on to describe his vision of the Trump-Biden presidential debates. He spoke about the candidates getting equal time and “where there is an orderly way of proceeding.” The president’s critics could be forgiven for interpreting that as a way of shaping the debate format so that Biden can recite prepared comments without interruption and without having to respond to Trump spontaneously.

It is fair to say that in past presidential debates – even up to as recently as the 2020 Democratic Party primaries – Biden usually came off as calm, cool, collected, and rational, even if one does not agree with his politics. Since that time, however, he has demonstrated a tendency to lose his temper, to raise his voice at times to a level one might even describe as hysterical, and to call people names. Additionally, Biden is now known for his frequent gaffes and a habit of recounting fictional episodes from his personal and political history. In a nutshell, he has on several occasions conducted himself in a manner often ascribed to Trump – and frequently used against the 45th president.

Those on the political left wary of presidential debates between Biden and Trump are, in all likelihood, concerned about these very issues. Thus, they would prefer to see either no debates or only events that are very strictly regulated. They are almost certainly hoping to eliminate the possibility of Biden embarrassing himself or simply being unable to go toe to toe with his notoriously boisterous opponent.

Trump has made it clear that he wants to debate Biden – who has, in turn, now claimed he is happy to engage in presidential debates with Trump. However, neither campaign has officially accepted the debate commission’s schedule – and so it still remains to be seen whether there will be any presidential debates in 2024. If there are none, then Biden’s handlers might well breathe a sigh of relief. Trump, on the other hand – along with his supporters – will probably feel cheated.

Read More From Graham J Noble

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