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How did the debate format affect the outcome?

How did the debate format affect the outcome?

In previous commentaries, I analyzed the outcome of the presidential debate in terms of the combatant’s performances and the potential impact on the course of their campaigns.  In a nutshell, Trump was the big winner largely because Biden was the big loser – although Trump did better than expected in maintaining his cool.

To better understand the outcome of the debate, it is necessary to understand how it came to be.

This was the earliest presidential debate in American history – taking place months before the traditional presidential debates and even before President Trump and President Biden were the official nominees of their respective parties. 

Since the debate was proposed by the Biden team, the first question is why did they want to debate – and why at this time?  Also, why the specific rules?

The decision to propose a debate was a reversal of the Biden campaign’s original strategic plan to NOT debate.  The message was that Biden did not to give Trump a platform for his theatrics and mendacious arguments.  That strategy was replaced by the new strategy – the debate strategy.

It appears that Team Biden wanted an early debate to change the status of the race.  For many months, polling indicated that Biden and Trump were locked in a close contest – with Trump maintaining a slim but consistent lead, especially in the all-important battleground states.   The theory was that a good performance in an early debate would change that trajectory – and a poor performance would provide a long recovery period. 

In many ways, the campaign was in the doldrums – with very little up or down movement from week to week.  The theory was that a debate would do what they hoped and predicted the State of the Union Speech would have done but did not.  That was to dispel concerns about Biden’s age and move him into the lead.

In proposing the debate, Biden’s people set rules that they viewed as unfavorable to Trump – no audience, silencing mics and hosting by network and moderators – Jake Tapper and Dana Bash – who were believed to be generally hostile to Trump based on their reporting.  Team Biden saw political benefit in the debate proposal whether Trump accepted or rejected the offer.

In fact, Trump quickly accepted the offer without any serious negotiation.  At the time, many thought that was a mistake.  According to some reports, Trump was eager to debate and felt that any tough negotiation would squelch the deal.

A lot of political pundits believed the rules would play against Trump.  That was the intention.  They theorized that he would not perform as well without the energy of an audience.  And muting the mics would inhibit Trump’s habit of speaking over the competition.

As it turned out, the rules played out to Trump’s advantage.  He did not seem affected by the lack of an audience.  The muting of the mics kept him from overdoing his responses or talking over Biden.

The restrictions on the moderators – and their adherence to the rule – prevented the type of biased participation that marred past debates that were less fair and more controversial.  Trump and Biden could be judged on their own performances.

In terms of the staging, the rules and the conduct of the moderators, I judge this as the best presidential debate format in recent years.

So, there ‘tis.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. frank stetson

    I concur, except: Democrats, be careful what you ask for and how did you fuck up the prep so bad?

    • Jim wampler

      They were trying to prep a retard

  2. Tom

    This article gets a Stop The Spin (STS) score of 1. No major objections, but the article does seem to flip a lot between words like “it appears” which mean the author really does not know for sure, and then is followed up by verbs like “was” which gives the allusion that the author knows for sure. Fact is, the author never referenced this supposedly new or changed plan or where it could be found. So it appears to this Independent that the entire article is conjecture. 🙂

    As an Independent, I thought the format was good. It limited Trump from over talking Biden so I could actually hear both – unlike the 2020 debate. I really did not care who it benefited. I viewed both candidates being on a level platform. The platform limited Trump’s ability to dominate and over-talk while it also gave Biden the ability to think without interruption – so the Biden team appears to have stricken a good balance. I thought the moderators did a fine job. I did not know them or their leanings. I really did not learn anything new because neither man talked about their vision moving forward. Trump’s vision seems to be more aid to the wealthy class and corporatoins, and the Heritage Project 2025. Biden’s vision seems to be maintenance of social programs, more fairness in the judicial process, and building the middle class while raising taxes on wealthy to close the wealth gap that has increased over the past 30 years. .

    Again, as far as who won, that depends on how you define a win. No doubt, Biden had a tough night. What Trump showed was his penchant to not answer questions unfavorable to him – which he did a number of times. And he stole credit for the Biden insulin reduction costs that are a signature accomplishment of his presidency. Trump once again showed who he was, which we already knew and most predicted.

    More importantly the SCOTUS immunity decision just presented a new aspect of this campaign. A vote for Trump is a vote for strong authority concentrated in our new king, and project 2025, OR a vote for Biden is a vote for someone who will not abuse the new king’s power and will operate by the rule of law and preserve our institutions and programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, SS, etc. The SCOTUS is now the hand of the king who is above the law. All hail the imperial king. Vote wisely!

    • Hammon

      Tom WHEN trump is re-elected the rat party and some independents will be accusing him of serious shit. But he will survive

      • frank stetson

        Trump is already indicted for some serious shit that he will magically erase IF he becomes your Felony Rapist King. He will not survive, he will thrive on the bones of his enemies. He has a list.

  3. Darren

    I feel CNN did exactly what the people in charge told them to do!
    Make Biden look bad so we can run someone who has a chance to win!
    The people in charge are the ones cleaning up Biden’s F UPs everyday.
    People have a choice. Vote for someone who Drives to the Old Age Home or Vote
    for someone who LIVES at the Old Age Home with a Nurse!


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