Upcoming Biden-Trump debate is the most unique in history. Here’s why

22 June 2024
Matt Cudahy

The opening debate of the 2024 presidential campaign is almost here, and it will be unlike any other in U.S. history.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will be in the same room on Thursday, June 27, for the first time since their last debate on Oct. 22, 2020. It comes after an uncharacteristically short primary season, as neither candidate faced a strong threat to their parties’ nomination. It also comes as the polls begin to tighten, with Biden eclipsing Trump for the first time this cycle in FiveThirtyEight’s aggregated poll, though Trump maintains a slight lead in a number of swing states.

Not only will Thursday’s debate, hosted by CNN, be a must-watch for all informed voters, but it will also be a unique historical event, potentially reshaping presidential campaigns going forward. Here’s why:

No audience

For the first time since the inaugural presidential debate in 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, there will not be an audience for Biden and Trump’s debate.

Audiences, largely comprised of local residents, have become a staple of presidential debates over the years. While attendees are instructed to remain cordial and not interrupt the candidates, they can play into the energy of the event.

However, for this debate, it will just be Trump, Biden, moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, and limited campaign staff and production crew in attendance Thursday night.

Commission on Presidential Debates left out

This will be the first presidential debate since 1988 that the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has not sponsored.

Both Biden’s and Trump’s campaigns took issue with some of CPD’s rules and the schedule the organization laid out. Instead, the campaigns struck a deal to participate in two debates sponsored by two news networks: CNN’s Thursday debate and ABC News’ Sept. 10 debate.

The break from tradition has resulted in a new blueprint for the debates and has put the validity of CPD in doubt.

Mic muting

Another new and interesting wrinkle to the debate will be the reintegration of mic muting for candidates. This means the candidate whose turn it isn’t to speak will have their mic muted while the prompted candidate will have the open floor to speak without threat of being interrupted.

According to a report from Open to Debate, Biden and Trump’s first 2020 debate saw 76 interruptions between the candidates. Their second debate last cycle, which included mic muting, only saw four interruptions.

CNN is hoping to see similar results to that second debate this time around.

Earliest debate in history

This debate will be the earliest in a presidential election year in history. And by a lot. The prior record was Sept. 21 in 1980.

Every election before 2024 has held its first debate in either September or October. June 27 is a massive break from that tradition. It will be interesting to see how the earlier date will factor into polling and, more importantly, the final results this November.

Historic matchup

This will be the first-ever debate between a sitting president and a former president. It will also be a matchup of the two oldest candidates in U.S. history.