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Biden and Trump eschew precedent and debate commission in match

Biden and Trump eschew precedent and debate commission in match
Biden and Trump eschew precedent and debate commission in match

 


In just over a week, Frank Fahrenkopf will be just another member of the television audience watching Joe Biden and Donald Trump face off in this year's first presidential debate.

He's not happy about it.

In 1987, Fahrenkopf, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, helped create the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which organized and oversaw more than three decades of presidential and vice-presidential matchups.

This year, the Biden and Trump campaigns went out on their own and held two debates, the first on June 27 offering citizens an unusual addition to the usual summer fun and frivolity.

The result remains to be seen.

Both campaigns decided to seize what really belongs to the American people, said Fahrenkopf, who noted that the commission had done excellent work on behalf of voters before Biden and Trump, in partnership with television networks concerned about audience and prestige, decided to go freelance. and propose their own debate schedule and format.

Everything is fine. Better to debate than not to debate.

But speaking this week from his summer home in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Fahrenkopf expressed reservations about the agreed terms, including how a mute button will be enforced and the lack of direct voter participation in both matchups planned between Biden and Trump.

His inclination is to wait and see. If the first installment turns into another dumpster fire on a dung heap, like the first presidential debate in 2020, the committee is ready to step in with a schedule of three sessions planned for the fall, as well as a vice debate -presidential. debate.

They can say no, and that's their prerogative, Fahrenkopf said of the president and his potential successor.

But the offer exists.

The commission was founded nearly 40 years ago by Democrats and Republicans seeking to end the brinkmanship and tedious debate after debate that had become a regular part of presidential campaigning.

It was back and forth and there was always doubt whether the candidates would share a stage, said Fahrenkopf, who rose through the ranks of Nevada politics before becoming national GOP chairman under President Reagan.

The commission has faced plenty of criticism over the decades, often from candidates who stumbled into the spotlight and wanted someone to take the blame. But after several election cycles without debates, face-to-face meetings between major candidates have become a staple of the fall campaign and something voters now rely on. Tens of millions of people are connecting.

Biden and Trump had their own gripes with the commission and the 2020 debates, which took place amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biden was not happy that Trump and his entourage threw away their masks after entering the debate hall. (What was I going to do? Fahrenkopf asked, not unreasonably.) Trump had all kinds of grievances, including the composition of the commission, heavily from Washington.

But those complaints aside, the two men had other reasons to strike a side deal this time and reject the commission and its fall schedule.

Biden was eager to dispel suggestions that his campaign was stuck in the doldrums, while Trump was eager to debate early and is often a rival he considers in steep mental and physical decline.

Frank Fahrenkopf, left at a 2020 debate, is disappointed that the presumptive Republican and Democratic nominees are setting their own terms for two debates this year, bypassing the nonpartisan commission he co-chairs.

(Chip Somodevilla/Associated Press)

Fahrenkopf, on a diplomatic level, did not want to criticize the terms of the June 27 debate presented by the CNN host and accepted by the two candidates. (A second debate is scheduled for September 10 on ABC, and CBS plans a meeting of the vice presidential candidates at a date to be determined. The participation of independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his running mate remains up in the air.)

Fahrenkopf wondered how the mute button would work. In 2020, after Trump blustered and repeatedly talked about Biden during their first debate, will you shut up, man? Biden criticized at one point that the commission had instituted a rule that each candidate would have two uninterrupted minutes at the start of each 15-minute topical segment. Both men respected the rule.

On the other hand, the microphones will be cut off during the entire debate on CNN, except when a candidate has his turn to speak.

Our view is meant to be a debate, Fahrenkopf said. It's not just the answers [candidates are] give on issues that are important to voters. …People watching on television [also] get an idea of ​​a candidate's character. How he or she behaves, whether he or she follows the rules. Let them be polite.

Fahrenkopf said his biggest disappointment with the arrangement Biden and Trump reached is the lack of a town hall format, in which voters in the studio audience have the opportunity to question the candidates directly. It was, he said, one of the commission's most popular innovations.

Sooner or later, Fahrenkopf and his nine fellow commissioners will have to decide whether to scrap the four planned debates and disappoint schools like Texas State University, Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, Virginia State University and the University of Utah are expected to host.

There was such great involvement from students participating in previous debates, Fahrenkopf said. Students who were taking special civics classes, etc. All that is gone.

But even if it's twofold for Biden and Trump, Fahrenkopf doesn't see the debate commission disappearing simply because the candidates chose to snub its recommendations and look out for their own interests.

Well, let's look to 2028, he said. We have been around for a long time. So we must be doing something right.

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