On Thursday June 27, 2024, a date that will live in TV ratings heaven, Donald Trump and Joseph Biden will “debate” on CNN, a program to be carried on almost all cable and network stations so long as the CNN bug is included.

While I am not promising to avoid commenting after the debate, these are my pre-debate ideas concentrating on performance and procedure at the debate.

First, it’s not really a “debate.” In normal parlance a debate is an organized argument or contest of ideas in which the participants discuss a topic from two opposing sides. For those of you who were debaters in school you will recall that a debate is formulated as “resolved…x,y,z” with one side arguing the positive and the other side arguing the negative. That is not happening on June 27.

In this debate, two questioners will ask Trump and Biden what their positions are on various issues and each will answer, swerve or avoid. Each will be given the opportunity to respond under rules to which both campaigns have agreed.

Here are some things to watch for:

  1. Appearance. Biden and Trump will each wear suits and ties. Biden’s jacket will be buttoned but Trump’s probably will not. Trump is overweight; Biden is not.
  2. Voice and Diction. Biden has a lifelong speech impediment, a stammer. He tends to speak in a conversational tone but amps it up for emphasis. Trump, on the other hand, has a habitual holler which may not appear because he will be in a tv studio with no audience but I wouldn’t count on it. Each speaks with a standard American accent with no regional dialect.
  3. Verbal tics. In quoting conversations with others, Trump always claims that the quoted speaker starts by addressing Trump as “sir” no matter how consequential the matter, as in “Sir, you were brilliant today!!” or “Sir, where’s the toilet?” When quoting Biden’s father, Biden recalls his dad as addressing him as “Joey,” as in “Joey, to thine own self be true” or “Joey, take out the garbage.” Apparently the senior Biden never called his son Joseph or Joe or even “stupid.”
  4. Tangents. Trump is the master of the parenthetical and irrelevant phrase, so much so that both he and his audience lose track of what he was talking about in the first place. An example would be, “Farm parity is important because we have to take care of our farmers, we love our farmers, and it’s hot up here, it was hot in the car, so many people waiting to get in here for hours and taking the heat just to see me.” [Author’s note: a poor example because Trump, that farmer’s friend, does not know what parity is. Jake and Dana, please ask him on Thursday.] Further, Trump is a monologist. A friend who worked for Trump in the White House told me that in conversations with Trump nobody can get a word in edgewise.
  5. Filial Devotion. Trump and Biden tend to mention their fathers but not so much their mothers. Biden’s father was Joseph Senior. His mother was Catherine Eugenia Finnegan who harbored a lifelong dislike of the British. She slept on the floor rather than in a bed previously used by a former queen of England. Trump’s father was Fred Trump. His mother was Mary Anne McLeod. Fred Trump, a builder and real estate developer, was no bargain. He had frequent run-ins with the authorities regarding his, shall we say, selective policies with respect to tenants.
  6. Debate preparation. Biden is doing plenty of preparation. He is holed up at Camp David until Thursday where he is doing mock debates with Trump, played by Biden’s personal lawyer Bob Bauer, proving that a good lawyer can do anything. Trump, not so much. He is said to be discussing “policies” with his experts.

Enjoy, or at least watch, the debate. Have plenty of popcorn on hand!