What to know about CNN’s very early presidential debate with Biden and Trump

US President Joe Biden and former US President Donald Trump will debate Thursday evening at 9pm ET on CNN.

Here’s a quick look at why it’s making headlines ahead of the actual event.

Who participates?

Biden, the incumbent Democrat, and Trump, his Republican rival. Both men are the presumptive nominees of their respective parties.

What about Robert F. Kennedy Jr.?

He didn’t make it, according to CNN’s criteria.

Isn’t this a bit early?

With the U.S. election coming up on Nov. 5, Thursday’s debate is the earliest in modern U.S. history — a timing made possible in part because it’s so clear so early who the probable nominees are.

Where is it held?

Signs promoting the presidential debate hosted by CNN can be seen in Atlanta.
The CNN-hosted presidential debate will take place Thursday evening in Atlanta. (Megan Varner/Reuters)

At the CNN studios in Atlanta.

What is the format?

CNN has said the debate will do that last 90 minutes and will take place without an audience.

The microphones of the participants will be muted when they are not scheduled to talk.

Who moderates?

Veteran journalists Dana Bash and Jake Tapper, both work for CNN.

CNN anchors Jake Tapper (left) and Dana Bash (right) speak to audience members ahead of a Republican presidential candidate debate to be held in Des Moines, Iowa, in January.  Trump did not participate in that event.
CNN anchors Jake Tapper (left) and Dana Bash (right) speak to audience members ahead of a Republican presidential candidate debate to be held in Des Moines, Iowa, in January. Trump did not participate in that event. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

The same duo has moderated debates together in the past, including a January debate event in Des Moines, Iowa, between then-Republican presidential primaries contenders Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley. (Trump did not participate.)

Days before this week’s debate, voices of Trump allies accuse Bash and Tapper of bias against the former president — even though the network has defended the moderators.

Both Tapper and Bash criticized a September 2020 presidential debate between Biden and Trump, as did other media and journalists in the U.S And elsewherebecause of its chaotic and acrimonious nature and then-incumbent Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacists. Bash’s memorable description of the debate afterward: attracted attention.

It wasn’t the First time the two were critical of Trump.

Nevertheless, he and his campaign are targeting these two journalists as the debate draws closer.

At a meeting in Wisconsin earlier this month, Trump made a reference to battle “three people” in the upcoming debate, apparently including the CNN moderators in his count.

What’s at stake for Biden?

Thursday’s debate gives Biden a chance to make a case for re-election.

US President Joe Biden waves briefly before boarding Air Force One in Delaware.
Biden is seen waving before boarding Air Force One in Delaware last week. The 81-year-old incumbent Democrat is seeking re-election. Biden has faced questions about his age throughout his presidency and Thursday’s debate will give the president a chance to prove his doubters wrong. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

At the age of 81, Biden is already the oldest president in American history. Another full term would see him serve in that role until the mid-1980s.

His age has been the focus of media attention throughout his presidential term thus far. It was also at the center of attacks from Trump and some Republicans. During the debate, Biden will be able to demonstrate his leadership qualities live on television.

Biden and 78-year-old Trump – who is that? confronted with his own questions about his mental fitness – are together the two oldest nominees for the Oval Office. Thursday’s debate may be relevant to people concerned about the age of the candidates.

“It’s an incredible test of their cognitive competence,” Patrick Stewart, a political science professor at the University of Arkansas, told Reuters. “This is our chance to see how much they’ve fallen, and if they’ve fallen.”

But as a sitting president, Biden can expect to be asked questions about current issues facing the country today.

Brian Hughes, a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, told Reuters that inflation, immigration and “a world on fire” with major wars in Ukraine and Gaza are key issues the campaign wants Biden to talk about.

What about Trump?

Former US President Donald Trump greeted supporters at a sandwich shop in Philadelphia last weekend.
Trump greeted supporters at a sandwich shop in Philadelphia last weekend. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Trump has faced legal challenges since leaving office, including his conviction in a hush money trial. And he also faces three other lawsuits — including his alleged mishandling of classified documents and alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election results — to follow.

During the debate, Trump can speak to voters about these cases. He could be confronted with it too.

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But putting aside any issues raised during the debate, Trump will have to perform on a stage he hasn’t stepped on in some time, having skipped such confrontations with Republican rivals (such as the Iowa debate).

Trump made that clear last summer he wouldn’t participating in the debates during the Republican primaries because voters knew him personally and his record.

Alan Schroeder, professor emeritus of journalism at Northeastern University, sees some risk for Trump amid a looser debate format.

“He’s done so many different types of TV events that he thinks he can handle it,” Schroeder, an expert on presidential debates, told Reuters.

“But debating is something very specific. It doesn’t really pay to just show up.”

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