Next Week’s Debate Plans Major Surprises

[Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

In less than two weeks, Joe Biden and Donald Trump will engage in one of the strangest debates in presidential history. The first debate in history featuring two presidents, CNN has laid out ground rules that they believe will help them “control the format,” ie, likely help Biden the way Candy Crowley helped Barack Obama in 2012.

The New York Times reports that the upcoming debate will be like nothing ever seen in a presidential race.

There will be no opening statements. President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump will each have two minutes to answer questions — followed by one-minute rebuttals and responses to the rebuttals. Red lights visible to the candidates will flash when they have five seconds left, and turn solid red when time has expired. And each man’s microphone will be muted when it is not his turn to speak.

The candidates will get a breather during two commercial breaks, according to debate rules provided by CNN to the campaigns and reviewed by The New York Times, but they will be barred from huddling with advisers while off the air.

The two men are readying themselves for the debate in ways almost as different as their approaches to the presidency itself. The Biden operation is blocking off much of the final week before the debate, after he returns from Europe and a California fund-raising swing, for structured preparations. Mr. Trump has long preferred looser conversations, batting around themes, ideas and one-liners more informally among advisers. He held one session at the Republican National Committee headquarters this past week.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden plainly do not like each other. The former president calls the current president the worst in American history. The current president calls his predecessor a wannabe dictator who threatens democracy itself. Four years ago, in their first encounter, Mr. Trump trampled over his rival’s talking time — the former president has since admitted privately that he was too aggressive — with Mr. Biden scolding him, “Will you shut up, man?”

The debate will be hosted by CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash in Atlanta. Both candidates have accepted the network’s invitation and agreed to the rules and format.

“Some aspects of the debate – including the absence of a studio audience – will be a departure from previous debates,” noted CNN. “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.

In order to meet CNN’s qualifications for the debate, candidates must satisfy the requirements outlined in Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution to serve as president. Both Biden and Trump meet those requirements, as do Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and Jill Stein, who are running on non-major-party tickets.

Participants must also file a formal statement of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission. All five have done so.

All participating debaters must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold to win the presidency and receive at least 15% in four separate national polls of registered or likely voters that meet CNN’s standards for reporting.”

Robert Kennedy, Jr., who has been polling well and recently appeared to qualify for the debate, has pledged to sue both candidates for excluding him.

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