Biden-Trump Debate to Feature Muted Mics and No Live Audience

By: May Man Published: Jun 16, 2024

President Biden and former President Trump will each have two minutes to answer questions, followed by one-minute rebuttals and responses without opening statements.

When they have five seconds left, red lights will flash, and turn solid red when time expires. Each man’s microphone will be muted when it is not his turn to speak.

Less Than Two Weeks Away

The candidates will have two commercial breaks according to the debate rules provided by CNN and reviewed by The New York Times, but they are prohibited from consulting with advisers while off the air.

Trump and Biden stood behind podiums during debate

Source: Wikimedia

The first presidential debate of the 2024 cycle is less than two weeks away. Both campaigns are rushing to prepare for this crucial event, which will be the first directly sponsored by a television network in over a generation. The 90-minute debate in Atlanta on June 27 is a significant moment on this year’s campaign calendar, where Biden and Trump will present their contrasting visions for the nation, appearing together for the first time since October 2020.

Different Approaches

The preparations for the debate are as different as their presidential approaches. Biden’s team is scheduling structured preparations, blocking off much of the final week before the debate after his return from Europe and a California fundraising trip.

A digital illustration of two boxing gloves showing the icons for the Democrat and Republican parties

Source: Adobe Stock

Trump, who prefers more informal discussions, held a session at the Republican National Committee headquarters last week.

“Will you shut up, man?”

Trump and Biden clearly dislike each other. Trump calls Biden the worst president in American history, while Biden labels Trump a wannabe dictator who threatens democracy. In their first encounter four years ago, Trump frequently interrupted Biden, who responded with, “Will you shut up, man?”

Joe Biden speaking at a podium in a suit.

The White House/Wikimedia Commons

This time, CNN’s rules state that “moderators will use all tools at their disposal to enforce timing and ensure a civilized discussion,” and microphones will be muted except for the speaking candidate. It is unclear how muted microphones will affect the debate’s dynamic, including memorable moments from past debates.

Deep Animosity

The debate will have no live audience, and lectern positions will be decided by a coin flip. The deep personal animosity between Biden and Trump is a significant factor and consideration for their strategies.

Former president and candidate for 2024, Donald Trump speaks to a crowd

Source: @TheTelegraph/YouTube

The Trump campaign believes exposing Biden’s weaknesses will be a winning approach, while the Biden campaign thinks letting Trump be himself will be advantageous.

Biden to Likely Rehearse

Both men are out of practice, as neither has debated since 2020, marking the longest gap since general-election debates became regular in 1976. Biden’s preparation is led by Ron Klain, his first White House chief of staff, who handled his 2020 and 2012 vice-presidential debate preparations.

A photograph of Joe Biden next to an American flag

Source: Wikimedia

Bruce Reed, the White House deputy chief of staff, has been gathering materials on policy contrasts for Biden to study. Biden will likely rehearse with a stand-in opponent, as he did in 2020 with Bob Bauer playing Trump; it is not confirmed if Bauer will reprise this role in 2024.


“The goal is no surprises”

“The goal is no surprises,” said Kate Bedingfield, former White House communications director involved in Biden’s 2020 debate preparations. She noted that Biden must be ready for unexpected comments from Trump.

President Joe Biden talks on the phone with Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, R-Tenn., Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House.

Source: Adam Schultz/Pexels

A major question is whether Trump will bring up Hunter Biden, who was recently convicted on felony gun charges, and how Biden will address Trump’s own felony conviction for falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal.


Debate Prep

Klain has long prepared Biden for personal attacks. In 2012, Klain asked Chris Van Hollen, then a Maryland congressman, to make personal digs while playing Paul Ryan in debate prep. “You have to prepare for someone who is going to hit below the belt,” said Van Hollen, now a U.S. senator. He noted that Trump’s below-the-belt attacks are a certainty.

Joe Biden standing behind two microphones.

Source: Michael Stokes/Wikimedia Commons

Trump has never engaged in traditional, rigorous debate preparation and continues this approach. He believes he performs best when improvising. “He views his rallies as debate prep,” said Marc Lotter, a former aide on Trump’s 2020 campaign. The challenge for Trump will be adhering to time limits. “If they’re literally going to cut your mic, you’ve got to hit your marks,” Lotter said.


Limited Debate Prep for Trump

Campaigns typically highlight their opponents’ debating skills, but Trump’s accusations that Biden is mentally diminished have lowered expectations for the president.

Former president Donald Trump speaks into a microphone in front of an American flag

Source: @GiaDuprey/X

Trump’s inner circle has had limited debate preparation, including a recent meeting at the Republican National Committee headquarters with Senators Marco Rubio and Eric Schmitt. Jason Miller, a senior Trump adviser, said Trump’s speeches showed “elite stamina” and that he “does not need to be programmed by staff.” Trump’s aides are not expected to hold formal role-playing sessions with someone acting as Biden. “We have conversations,” said Chris LaCivita, one of Trump’s campaign managers. Asked who might stand in for Biden, he replied, “Joe Biden is going to play Joe Biden.”


Preferred Topics

Trump argues that he is contending with both Biden and a hostile CNN. “CNN is the enemy,” he said, mocking moderator Jake Tapper as “Fake Tapper.” Still, he predicted the network would be “as fair as they can be.” Emily Kuhn, a CNN spokeswoman, said in a statement that Tapper and co-moderator Dana Bash are veteran journalists well-equipped to moderate a substantial discussion.

CNN's Jake Tapper sitting on couch against purple, red wall

Source: nrkbeta, Wikimedia

The Biden team has specified preferred topics for the debate, including abortion, democracy, and Trump’s economic plans, such as tax cuts for the wealthy. Trump’s team believes his key advantage is Biden’s unpopular record, focusing on inflation, major conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, and record border crossings linked to domestic crime.


Debate Structure

The debate will begin once the first question is answered, with up to five minutes designated per question: two minutes for the initial answer, a one-minute rebuttal, a one-minute response, and an extra minute at the moderators’ discretion. Each candidate will have a two-minute closing statement.

An image of former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Source: Wikimedia

Biden’s team views moving the first debate to June from September as a victory, believing it will improve Biden’s poll numbers once voters fully consider the prospect of Trump’s return to power. Presidential debates are pivotal moments in American campaigns, drawing over 73 million viewers for the first debate in 2020. Beyond live viewership, debates are about post-debate clips and punditry. The Biden campaign has enlisted California Governor Gavin Newsom as a surrogate in the post-debate spin room in Atlanta.


“Joe Biden is not scared of Donald Trump”

While many Democrats are nervous about Biden’s performance, he is reportedly confident. “I can assure you, Joe Biden is not scared of Donald Trump,” Klain said on MSNBC this year.

Two silhouettes of a donkey and an elephant, representing the Democratic party and the Republican party on an American flag

Source: Shutterstock

One concern for Biden’s team is that he might focus too much on his record and not enough on attacking Trump. “The challenge for all incumbents in the debates is to not spend the whole time talking about their record,” said Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager.