Trump and Biden Agree to Two Debates

By Adeline Von Drehle
Published On: Last updated 05/16/2024, 03:23 PM EDT

Joe Biden and Donald Trump have agreed upon two debates before the November election, giving voters highly familiar with both men another chance to evaluate them in the same setting. The RCP Average shows Trump with a 1.1-point edge on Biden in the national head-to-head matchup, but polling history tells us that presidential debates can influence voters’ thinking.

Biden and Trump plan to debate on Jun. 27 and Sep. 10, much earlier in the calendar year than is typical. The first debate will occur before either candidate has been officially nominated by either political party. Trump accepted the challenge against “Crooked Joe Biden” in a post on Truth Social. Biden responded by saying he would use Air Force One to get himself there because he plans “on keeping it another four years.”

The debates will offer voters an opportunity to gauge the policy position and vitality of the 81-year-old incumbent and his predecessor – who will turn 78 two weeks before the June faceoff. Polls suggest that many voters question the mental acuity of both candidates, though Biden took a particularly hard hit when Special Counsel Robert Hur described the president’s memory as “faulty.” One AP poll from March showed that 63% of voters say they’re not very or not at all confident in Biden’s mental capability to serve effectively as president, while 58% of voters said the same about Trump..

A slip-up or grandpa moment at either debate could affect the polling numbers of the candidates. Political observers differ about the significance of debates, and the pre-debate and post-debate surveys are open to interpretation.

President Gerald Ford certainly didn’t help himself in his 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter when he said, “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford administration.” This was certainly news to those living behind the repressive Iron Curtain, and when journalist Max Frankel gave Ford a chance to clarify his gaffe, he just made it worse. Did that cost Ford the presidency? Probably not, but it’s the kind of blooper Biden and Trump will try to avoid – and one that could make the difference in a very close race.

In 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon was up one point in the polls until his first televised debate with John F. Kennedy in late September. Nixon had recently been released from the hospital and declined to have his makeup done before going on stage. He was ashen and 20 pounds underweight when he debated a vibrant and handsome Kennedy. Poll data shows Kennedy had a three-point boost after the debate.

Given the country’s hyper-partisan political culture, most minds are likely already made up. Yet with such a close contest, each candidate surely cannot afford to look anything but the picture of health on the debate stage.

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