Calls Mount for Biden, Trump to Embrace Presidential Debate Tradition

Twelve news organizations have called on presumptive presidential nominees Joe Biden and Donald Trump to commit to participating in debates during the campaign, emphasizing the importance of this tradition in American politics.

In a joint statement released on Sunday, major news outlets including ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, PBS, NBC, NPR, and The Associated Press stressed the significance of presidential debates, which have been a staple of every general election campaign since 1976. The organizations urged both candidates to publicly announce their intention to participate in the three presidential and one vice presidential forums set by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.

The statement emphasized the critical role of debates in allowing candidates to present their visions for the nation’s future directly to the American people. It noted that in a highly polarized election, debating each other is essential for voters to make informed decisions.

Biden and Trump participated in two debates during the 2020 election cycle. A planned third debate was canceled after Trump contracted COVID-19 and declined to debate remotely. When asked on March 8 about committing to a debate with Trump, Biden responded, “it depends on his behavior,” referring to Trump’s conduct during the first 2020 debate, where Biden famously interjected, “will you shut up?”

In response to the news organizations’ call, Trump’s campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita affirmed the president’s willingness to debate anytime, anywhere, and under any conditions. They drew parallels to the historic 1858 Illinois Senate debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, suggesting that today’s America deserves similar engagements.

The Republican National Committee decided in 2022 not to participate in forums sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, citing concerns about moderator bias. The Trump campaign has requested assurances from the commission that the debates will be fair and impartial, as well as an earlier debate schedule to accommodate early voting.

While the Biden campaign refrained from commenting on the news organizations’ letter, Trump, during a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday, used a second lectern symbolizing Biden’s purported refusal to debate. Trump called on Biden to debate “anytime, anywhere, any place,” emphasizing the urgency of informing the American people about the country’s direction.

C-SPAN, NewsNation, and Univision also joined the call for debates, with USA Today as the sole newspaper to support the initiative. The Washington Post declined to participate.

The news organizations hope that debates will inject new interest into the campaign cycle, as television news ratings have declined significantly compared to 2020, attributed in part to changes in media consumption habits and pandemic-related factors.