Election 2024

Biden and Trump Want a Presidential Debate Safe Space

Two debates, no RFK Jr.—not an improvement.


President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have agreed to participate in two presidential debates—one in June and one in September—after both candidates bucked the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonprofit organization that has managed such affairs since 1988.

Biden had a list of demands regarding the terms of this debate, such as the elimination of the traditional live audience and inclusion of mics that immediately cut off when the candidate's time has elapsed and the other person is speaking. Apparently these terms were amenable to Trump, who nevertheless complained that Biden is afraid of crowds.

This means the candidates have officially killed the proposal put forth by the commission, which wanted three debates somewhat closer to Election Day, in September and October. There is nothing sacred about the commission, and these new debates may well be an improvement over last cycle's. Preventing the candidates from interrupting each other would be a significant win for the viewing public and everyone involved.

That said, Biden and Trump have utterly failed—unsurprisingly—to agree to the most desirable change, which would have been to include more candidates. The commission infamously restricted its debates to just candidates polling above a 15 percent threshold. In 2016, this meant that Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson was excluded despite polling as high as 13 percent in some surveys. By mutual decree, Biden and Trump are sticking with this arbitrary limitation.

In a statement, the Biden campaign said the purpose of the debate was "to compare the only two candidates with any statistical chance of prevailing in the Electoral College" and not to waste time "on candidates with no prospect of becoming president." That's a rather direct rebuke of independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is currently polling at about 10 percent in battleground states.

RFK Jr. is not currently in a position to win the presidential election. But he could have a major impact. Polls show that he is currently pulling votes from Biden and Trump in somewhat equal measure. He has also attracted a following among anti-establishment, populist, and even some libertarian voters. If either Biden or Trump were to make an appeal to previous supporters who have decamped for RFK Jr., and win them back, it could be the difference on Election Day.

Of course, both major party candidates are probably more worried about the opposite thing happening: RFK Jr. winning an even greater number of their voters. Their present actions betray them; the Biden campaign is doing everything in its power to undermine RFK Jr.'s ballot access drive, while Trump is desperate to remind his base of RFK Jr.'s decidedly nonconservative views on guns, environmental regulation, and abortion.

RFK Jr. holds an eclectic mix of views, some of which appeal to supporters of limited government: He opposed COVID-19 mandates, is worried about federal efforts to suppress dissent on social media, and does not want to continue sending billions in foreign aid to Ukraine. Yet he remains a progressive liberal on a range of social and economic issues. He recently expressed support for both student loan debt forgiveness and affirmative action.

He is keen to join the debate stage. He recently issued a challenge to Trump to debate him later this month at the Libertarian National Convention, where both candidates will be speaking. (Hopefully the party will make time for its own prospective candidates as well.) Trump does not seem likely to take him up on this offer; like Biden, Trump wants a presidential debate safe space, where the two presidents* only have to face each other.


Leave Maggie Alone

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, well-known for her coverage of Trump, was excoriated by liberals on social media this week because of a wrinkle in the Trump hush money case. One exhibit in the trial was text messages between Haberman and former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, the purpose of which was to establish that Cohen was well-accustomed to doing Trump's dirty work.

"Please start writing and I will call you soon," read one message from Cohen to Haberman.

On X, liberals treated this as proof that Haberman was somehow in cahoots with the Trump campaign. But the exchange is perfectly benign; sometimes a reporter is only interested in writing a story if they can get comment from the source. It looks to me like Cohen was merely acknowledging to Haberman that she wouldn't be wasting her time—he would, in fact, provide whatever statement she needed. This is perfectly common journalistic practice.

Of course, many Democrats have decided that The New York Times should be working full-time to help reelect Biden to the presidency, a notion that Times Executive Editor Joe Kahn unequivocally rejects.


This Week on Free Media

I'm joined by The Spectator's Amber Duke to discuss MSNBC's horror over independent voters seeing Biden as a bigger threat to democracy than Trump, quarterback Aaron Rodgers stumping for RFK Jr., CNN reacting to Cohen's testimony, Vice President Kamala Harris dropping an f-bomb, and The Simpsons killing comedy with European Union propaganda.


Worth Watching

Amazon released a trailer for the second season of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. I thought the first season was OK, but not great. It felt like very generic fantasy and was missing some of the light-hearted whimsy and magic of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. (As well as the Hobbit films, which I found delightful; whenever I hear someone say "they should have been one movie," I stop listening.) Like everyone else (except for Galadriel, sadly), I guessed that the mysterious castaway from the second episode was actually Sauron; the fake-out with the Stranger did not fool me for one second.

This trailer makes it look like the second season will depict Sauron's corruption of Numenor, which is definitely an interesting aspect of the backstory. We shall see if they manage to make it compelling.


*CORRECTION: This article has been edited to clarify the descriptions of Trump and Biden.