Longtime Debate Co-Chairman Shreds CNN Format, Promises Comeback in 2028

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

As President Biden and former President Trump gear up for the CNN debate moderated by Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, more criticism about the format is coming in, this time from Frank Fahrenkopf, the debate co-chairman of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). 


Thursday’s debate will be the first one in over 30 years not overseen by the CPD. Following the 2020 debates, the Biden campaign chose to go directly to CNN instead of the CPD for the 2024 debate. 

Fahrenkopf told “The Hill’s Evening Report”:

I’m trying to be fair, I’m not judging yet, I want to watch and see. We developed a format that really works. If they came up with a format that gives the American people a solid view of the candidates, that’s great.

The co-chair has quite the experience, having overseen 33 presidential and vice presidential debates since 1988. He was not fond of CNN's new changes. 

QUESTION: On the debate having commercial breaks for the time?

ANSWER: This is an important part of American civics. Why would you break twice to run ads?

Q: On the lack of audience at CNN studios in Atlanta?

A: They’re saying there shouldn’t be an audience because people clap and cheer and scream, but that’s not true. That happens at primary debates, not presidential debates. That’s a phony thing the Biden people came up with.

Q: On moderators allowing for two minutes of uninterrupted answers from the candidates?

A: It’s almost like an interview the way they’re doing it, but this is supposed to be a debate between the two candidates.

Q: On holding a debate so early in the election year? 

A: Americans don’t traditionally focus on the election until after Labor Day. 

Q: On Robert F. Kennedy Jr. being left off the debate stage?

A: We wait for every state to complete their ballots…with us, Kennedy would have had up until Sept. 6 to qualify.


As you can see, things could have been a lot different had the CPD been involved, as they have been for decades. There were usually three debates done; right now, only two are scheduled for voters to watch. There used to be only one moderator, but now there will be two. 

Fahrenkopf questioned how CNN would come up with the rules, moderate them, and then later provide analysis, citing a conflict of interest. 

How will the talking heads on CNN do a fair analysis after they sponsored it? It’s a real challenge.

Fahrenkopf added that the commission is not going anywhere, and they will be back in 2028:

We’ll be around … the commission is not going away if we don’t do any debates this year. We’ll be back in 2028.

It will be interesting to see the total number of viewers that tune in to this debate because, as Fahrenkopf pointed out, most people start paying to the presidential election after Labor Day, not so much during the summer.


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