8 things to watch for in CNN’s 2024 debate between Biden and Trump | CNN Politics (2024)


President Joe Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, are set to make history on CNN Thursday night as they meet for their first 2024 debate.

It’ll be the first time a president and former president have ever debated. And it’ll be the first time either man has been on a debate stage since their two clashes in 2020 — when Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic dominated the political landscape.

Thursday’s debate will be the earliest in the election cycle that a presidential debate featuring the major parties’ nominees hastaken place in modern history.

Now, Biden — already the oldest president the United States has ever had — has his own record to scrutinize. And Trump has a criminal record — including his convictionin New York over falsifying business records related to hush money payments, two indictments stemming from his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, andcharges as a result of his handling of classified documents after leaving office. So does Biden’s son, Hunter, who was convicted on gun charges and is frequently a target of Trumpand other Republicans.

The debate is taking place about three miles from where Trump posed for the first mugshot taken of an ex-president after he was charged with trying to meddle in Georgia’s 2020 vote count.

The 90-minute debate is set to start at9p.m. ET on CNN, with Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderating. It will take placeat the network’s studiosin Atlanta, and there will be no audience.

Here are eight things to watchforin Thursday night’s debate:

What Trump focuses on: Biden’s record or his grievances

Those who haven’t yet fully tuned into the 2024 presidential race might be surprised by how backward-looking the former president’s most frequent riffs are.

At campaign rallies and speeches at friendly right-wing gatherings, Trump devotes huge shares of his comments to personal grievances — rehashing long-debunked claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, recasting insurrectionists who stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, as patriots, and lambasting the criminal charges he facesinWashington, Florida and Georgia as political hit jobs.

That litany of grievances might animate crowds of Trump supporters, but it’s unlikely to convince a broader audience of voters whomayconsider backing him that he is focused on their interests.

That’s why Trump’s advisers and allies have urged the former president to focus on issues like the economy, crime and inflation as he debates Biden.

The lack of a studio audience may potentially help Trump,who feeds on the reactions of his audiences, stay on track.

How Biden seeks to answer the age question

Every day the 81-year-old Biden wakes up as president, he sets a record as the oldest person to ever hold that position — and any misstep, meandering statement or lost thought on the debate stage will be heavily scrutinized or even distorted by allies of Trump, 78.

Thursday will be Biden’s first extensive exposure to millions of Americans since the last round of debates nearly four years ago, and the president will aim to avoid doing anything that could reinforce concerns about how old he is, while also turning the question of age into a statement on experience: Yes, he asks voters to put their faith in a person who would be 86 by the end of his second term, but he also enters the debate with more experience than anyone who has ever run for the presidency — and is able to use hard-earned knowledge to negotiate and pass bipartisan legislation.

The best-case scenario for Biden is a repeat of his State of the Union address earlier this year: a forceful and clear delivery that shows the president confidently relaxed and able to effectively parry jabs from his opponent, assuaging age concerns and widening the gap in what so far has been an extremely tight race. The worst case?He commits the kind of miscue that will cement Biden’s age as a leading concern for voters all the way through Election Day.

What Trump will say about abortion

In 2016, Trump promised to take a lighttouchwith abortion and reproductive rights. Many conservatives were skeptical he would seek to gut Roe v. Wade, while most liberals believed he would try his best to do just that.

Eight years later, there is a similar dissonance across the political spectrum. Right-wingers who celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe are now occasionally frustrated by Trump’s refusal to publicly double down and push for a national abortion ban. The left is certain that,shouldhe be elected, Trump would embrace the most conservative possible position.

What Trump says during the debate will be less interesting for its content than to whom he is seen appealing.

It seems unlikely, but the former president could try to shore up his standing with the religious right by talking tough on the issue. More feasibly, he will deflect, attack Biden, and – at the most – talk up, as he’s done on the trail, his Supreme Court nominees and say the issue is better left to the states.

Part of the unpredictability here stems from how the GOP primary unfolded. Trump did not attend any debates and the candidates who did show up were mostly tight-lipped about an issue that, for all its salience among some conservatives, has provoked significant backlash against even the most moderate Republicans.

Scrutiny over inflation under Biden

Though inflation has slowed from its June 2022 peak, the cumulative effect of higher prices has long been a drag on Biden’s approval rating.

In interviews, Biden has largely downplayed the economic pinch many Americans say they feel, defending his administration’s economic record. “No president’s had the run we’ve had in terms of creating jobs and bringing down inflation,” he said in a May interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett. Biden falsely claimed that inflation was 9% when he took office. In reality, inflation hit that peak more than 16 months into his term.

A pro-Trump dark money group, Securing American Greatness, launched a TV ad in Georgia days before the debate accusing Biden of “denying reality” on inflation.

“Why won’t Biden admit how bad things are?” a narrator says in the ad. “Is it dishonesty or dementia?”

Biden, though, has a readily available counter: Experts have said many of Trump’s proposals — including steep tariffs, sharp immigration limits and measures that would give the president more power to lower interest rates — would worsen inflation.

What Biden says about Trump and democracy

In speeches and political appearances since the campaign began in earnest earlier this year, Biden has repeatedly said that he fears something integral to the American foundation is at stake if Trump regains the White House: democracy itself.

“Not since President Lincoln and the Civil War have freedom and democracy been under assault here at home as they are today,” Biden said during his State of the Union address earlier this year.

On Thursday, for the first time, Biden will have a chance to confront Trump to his face about his denial of the electionresults that led to the events ofJanuary 6, 2021, his kowtowing to Russia over US allies, and his stated promise to seek retribution for those who have wronged him politically.

How Biden addresses Israel and Gaza

It might not register as the top issue for voters in most polling, but the specter of Israel’s ongoing offensive in Gaza has cast a shadow over Biden’s campaign – specifically, his ability to revive the diverse, center-left coalition that led him to victory four years ago.

That big tent is, today, full of people with vastly differing opinions on the conflict and the president’s handling of the US relationship with Israel and its right-wing leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. Neither side of the domestic debate is inclined to compromise, which makes it pretty difficult to imagine Biden pleasing everyone to the left of Trump.

The Biden campaign knows all this, of course, so it will be interesting – and instructive – to hear his message and analyze where it’s being targeted.

It isdifficult to predict what he will focus onbecause of the other guy on the stage. Trump has, per usual, lobbed out a number of takes on the war and its political implications.

Their opposition on foreign policy

Trump’s affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin is hardly a secret. His views on US and NATO aid to Ukraine, which has been resisting a Russian invasion formore thantwo years, are slightly hard to pin down. What we do know, though, suggests a second Trump administration would be much more welcome in Moscow than Kyiv.

Just days ago, Reuters reported that a pair of top Trump foreign policy advisers have drawn up a plan designed to, in theory, end the war by making lethal aid from the US contingent on Ukraine enteringintopeace talks with Putin. If Russia did not come to the table, in this framework, that support would be ratcheted up. Crucially, though, the ceasefire that would accompany the talks would freeze the conflict in place along its current fronts.

The Trump campaign distanced itself, in part, from the plan, noting that the advisers who wrote it are not on the payroll. But the story resonated because it sounded a lot like something Trump might say or propose – especially given his opaque promises to end the war immediately if elected.

Biden’s worldview is different. He is strongly supportive of Ukraine and has spent immense political capital on getting the US Congress to greenlight military aid to Kyiv. He has also positioned himself at the forefront of liberal Western Europe, specifically NATO, which has done just about everything but send troops across the border.

Their differences on the border and immigration

Trump and Republicans have made the border a central campaign issue, and Trump has vowed to use the power of the federal government to “remove known or suspected gang members, drug dealers, or cartel members from the United States.” He’s also had some more outlandish suggestions, including setting up a UFC migrant league.

Biden’s hot-and-cold immigration policies give the president plenty of room to demonstrate his approach as a compassionate one that aims to keep families together and careers and lives intact, but they also open him up to criticism from both flanks.

Biden reversed or canceled some of Trump’s hardline immigration policies immediately upon taking office, only to roll back some of those rollbacks when migrant numbers surged, border cities became overwhelmed and his approval ratings took a hit. He had crafted the most extensive bipartisan immigration reform package in years, only for Trump to kill it so he could campaign against Biden on the issue. He has issued executive actions both limiting migrant crossings and protecting some undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Sources have told CNN that Biden is expected to go on the offensive on immigration — casting Trump’s policies as extreme and his own as compassionate.

8 things to watch for in CNN’s 2024 debate between Biden and Trump | CNN Politics (2024)
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