What to Expect in the First US Presidential Debate

Alexander Korfiatis
Alexander Korfiatis
Saint Louis University Undergraduate Class of 2025. Studying Medical Sciences on the path to become an anesthesiologist assistant. Highly motivated to write about politics, particularly domestic.

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The earliest presidential debate in US history is about to kick off tomorrow, June 26, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, or 8:00 p.m. Central time on CNN and its affiliate website. About six out of 10 American adults say they are “extremely” or “very” likely to watch the debate live or in clips, or consume information about the debate in any way. Concrete numbers are hard to come by, but as a comparison, 73 million people watched the first 2020 election debate between then-President Donald Trump and now-President Joe Biden.

The Debate’s Rules

The debate itself will have rules that seemed to correct for the combative 2020 debates. The main rule change is that while one candidate speaks, the other’s microphone will be muted. The candidates will have two minutes to respond to a question, and the opposing candidate has one minute to respond to the other’s answer. There will be no live audience, which will prevent clapping and possible heckling. A pen, paper, and water will be provided to candidates while they are on their podiums, and campaign aides are not allowed to speak to their candidates during the two commercial breaks.

How Each Candidate is Preparing

The two candidates are reportedly preparing in very different ways. According to ABC, former President Trump is allegedly not engaging in formal debate preparation, instead engaging in “policy meetings” with his closest advisors, focusing on different topics that could come up at the debate. President Biden has moved to Camp David to practice formal debate preparations, where a staff member will act like Trump. Ron Klain, the President’s former Chief of Staff, is reportedly leading the group, and has helped prepare Al Gore, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton for their presidential debates.

Candidate Strategies

For actual strategy, both candidates are trying to highlight the other’s weaknesses. Biden plans on trying to throw Trump off-balance and make him angry, believing that will turn off independent voters. He will also try to highlight his own mental acuity as a strength, which Trump is almost certainly going to point to as a weakness in Biden. Biden will try to paint Trump as a threat to democracy and abortion rights. However, he will not just focus on how he views Trump as ill-equipped to lead, but will contrast ways he believes he is a better leader in comparison. Trump will try to highlight Biden’s record on inflation and immigration as underperforming. He is also likely to place blame on the President for increasing geopolitical tensions under his watch, such as the Israel-Gaza conflict and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, along with the Afghanistan withdrawal.

Both see it as a high-stakes gamble, but it will not be the death knell to their campaigns if they do not have as effective as a debate they want. The debate is so early in the election season that either would be able to recover from any missteps in the initial event.