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Biden & Trump Urged To Commit To Presidential Debates By Networks

Is 2024 about to become the new 1972?

Richard Nixon and George McGovern’s battle for the White House 52 years ago was the last time the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates did not directly debate.

With President Joe Biden refusing to say whether or not he will get on a stage with Donald Trump this year, the broadcast networks and cable newsers have banded together to try to convince the incumbent and his predecessor to “publicly commit” to debates.

“We, the undersigned national news organizations, urge the presumptive presidential nominees to publicly commit to participating in general election debates before November’s election,” states an as-yet-unsent letter that Deadline has seen from NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News and CNN to the Trump and Biden campaigns.

“If there is one thing Americans can agree on, during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high,” the correspondence also says, noting that in every election since 1976 “tens of millions have tuned in” to Presidential debates. “There is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of the nation.”

First reported by the New York Times, the letter has gone unsent due in part to ongoing efforts to get the likes of the Gray Lady and other national publications to sign on too, I hear. Neither the Trump campaign nor the Biden campaign responded to request for comment from Deadline on the letter.

In many ways, the letter is intended for incumbent Biden over Trump, as the much-indicted former POTUS has already repeatedly publicly challenged his 2020 opponent to televised face-offs.

After the chaotic, caustic and Covid-19 infused debates of 2020, Biden has now put the onus on his often-bellicose rival to bring decorum back to the proceedings: “It depends on his behavior,” the president said last month when asked directly if he would meet Trump for debates.

“No reason to commit this early, not taking debates off the table either,” a well-positioned Democrat told Deadline today of the mindset of the Biden reelection campaign.

A consistent debater over the decades before he was elected to the big job, Biden’s strategy since taking office has been to focus more on local, regional and social media in order to reach voters where they are. As more than one White House official has said, the approach is based on the decline viewership that network news has in today’s multi-platform, fractured media environment. Having said that, Biden does have an hourlong prerecorded sit-down with well-watched Univision airing tonight in a effort to reach Latino voters.

On the other side, regardless of what Trump is saying now and that fact that over 73 million people watched the first Trump v. Biden debate in 2020, it should be noted that there’s a good chance the former Celebrity Apprentice host might not show up anyway for any debates this year even if they were agreed to between the campaigns.

For one thing, the Trump dominated RNC actually pulled out of Commission on Presidential Debates in 2022. Additionally Trump himself never debated his Republican rivals during the recent primaries. In the last election he pulled out of the second scheduled Presidential debate of October 15, 2020 when organizers shifted to a virtual format because of Covid-19 concerns. Those concerns were ignited in many ways because Trump tested positive for the virus on October 2, just a few days after the first debate, and spent several days in hospital.

Perhaps more than all that, the Biden campaign have made no secret they doubt the Commission’s ability to enforce its own rules when it comes to Trump. In 2020, like in 2016 and almost every debate he has been on stage for, Trump has refused to adhere to time limits, agreed upon formats or even letting his opponents speak.

That’s a far cry from the usual presidential debates of the modern age from the pivotal JFK and Vice President Nixon match in 1960 to Carter and Ford in ’76, Reagan and Carter and Mondale in 1980 and 1984 and all the way up to Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. Trump vs Hilary Clinton in 2016 was a pretty good indication of how low things could go, until the depths of 2020.

Stung by his loss to Kennedy in 1960, Nixon did not debate in 1968 or 1972. The candidate and later incumbent preferred Roger Ailes produced The Nixon Answer shows, where the questions, the format and even the participants were scripted. Maybe worried he could end up like Nixon, Kennedy successor LBJ did not debate Barry Goldwater in 1964. Johnson did go on to win that campaign in one of the greatest landslides in American history.

In a debate that foretold a race we sadly never were to see, then California Gov. Ronald Reagan and New York Senator Robert Kennedy debate in a way in 1967 in the CBS broadcast Town Meeting of the World, as you can see in partially below:

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