Wrong Again: Right-Wing Media Said Biden Would Never Debate Trump

Trump and Biden

Donald Trump and Joe Biden

After President Joe Biden expressed interest in debating presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump ahead of the 2024 election, right-wing media claimed Biden is running another “basement campaign” and his “puppeteers” would never allow any debates because it would be the “kiss of death” to the president's campaign. Those claims have followed years of right-wing and mainstream media fixating on the president’s age and mental acuity.

On May 15, Biden announced he had accepted an invitation to a CNN debate, and within hours, Biden and Trump mutually agreed to two debates, one each on CNN and ABC.

  • Biden and Trump have agreed to participate in two debates

    • On May 15, Trump and Biden mutually agreed to participate in a series of two debates, which will be hosted by CNN and ABC, respectively. The candidates are now scheduled to debate on June 27 and September 10 after Biden posted on X (formerly Twitter) that he had accepted debate invitations from the respective networks. Trump has a history of skipping presidential debates, most recently skipping those scheduled for the GOP primaries, but he has agreed to the two debates with Biden. [CNN, 5/15/24; NPR 5/16/24; The Associated Press 8/21/23; Twitter/X, 5/15/24, 5/15/24]
    • Weeks before Biden and Trump agreed to the debates, Biden had publicly expressed his desire to do so. In April, radio host Howard Stern asked Biden if he would debate Trump. Biden replied: “I am, somewhere, I don’t know when, but I am happy to debate him.” On May 9, Biden was asked when he would debate Trump during a White House event, to which he responded, “Set it up.” [The New York Times, 4/26/24; The White House, 5/9/24]
  • Right-wing and mainstream media have fixated on the president’s age and mental acuity

    • Right-wing media have repeatedly attacked Biden for his age and claimed that he is too old and mentally unfit to campaign and continue serving in office. Beginning in 2020, Trump and his right-wing media allies attacked Biden for hosting virtual campaign events during the COVID-19 pandemic, claiming that he was hiding in the “basement” to hide his age and lack of stamina. [Media Matters, 7/1/20, 2/9/24, 3/8/24; The Hill, 9/11/23; Politico, 6/24/20]
    • Right-wing and mainstream media outlets have disproportionately fixated on Biden’s age and mental acuity, even though Trump is nearly the same age. In various studies, Media Matters has found that both cable news and widely circulated newspapers mentioned Biden’s at a much higher rate than Trump’s. [Media Matters, 9/29/23, 10/20/23]
  • Right-wing media claimed Biden's “puppeteers” would not allow him to debate Trump

    • In response to Biden’s “set it up” comment, former White House press secretary and Outnumbered co-host Kayleigh McEnany said, “I won’t believe that Biden debates until I see it with my own eyes.” “Make no mistake this is basement campaign 2.0, it’s just run out of the Oval Office,” she said. “So do you really think the basement campaign is going to let him out of the Oval Office to go get demolished by Donald Trump? He will sit in the metaphorical basement. I hope to be proven wrong though.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 5/10/24]
    • In response to McEnany, Fox News contributor and former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said, “Kayleigh’s right, there can’t be debates. If he debates it’s going to be the kiss of death for Joe Biden as well as the Democratic Party.” Referring to Biden’s “set it up” comment, Fleischer continued, “He can't even walk up the stairs to Air Force One, yet he can stand up on stage for an hour and a half at prime time? No. They’re going to have to hide him.” Then, referencing McEnany’s basement attack, Fleischer added, “You know there is a basement underneath the Oval Office. It’s located next to the Mess. And that’s what you’re going to have with Joe Biden if he takes the stage — a mess.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 5/10/24]
  • As The Ingraham Angle's chyron displayed “Will Biden Actually Debate?,” Fox News contributor Byron York said that Biden did “get through” a “fawning, flattering, positive, easy” interview on The Howard Stern Show, but commented, “The idea of getting through an actual debate, clearly his team doesn’t want that.” During the segment, host Laura Ingraham played a clip of former White House secretary Jen Psaki on Meet the Press commenting on Biden saying he would debate Trump. “I was thinking, if I was in my old job from two years ago — you also don’t want him to say ‘no’ because no is weak and no is fear,” she said. [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 4/29/24; NBC, Meet the Press, 4/28/24]
  • When asked about Biden’s statement to Stern, Fox News contributor and former House Rep. Jason Chaffetz said that he would “be shocked if Joe Biden debated” and suggested that Biden did not check in with his “puppeteers” before making the statement. “I don’t know that he checked in with the puppeteers that help control this,” Chaffetz said. “I would be shocked if Joe Biden debated. I don’t think anybody on his team can afford to allow him to answer spontaneous questions and joust with probably one of the better debaters in Donald Trump.” He added, “He’s got to have people surrounding him just to walk to Marine One. The idea that he’s actually going to debate, I don’t think he’ll actually ever show up for that.” [Fox News, The Story with Martha MacCallum, 4/26/24]
  • During a Fox appearance two days later, Chaffetz once again claimed there was no way Biden’s “puppeteers” would “allow that guy out onto the stage to debate.” “The cognitive capability of this president does not allow him to debate,” Chaffetz added. Then, referencing Psaki’s appearance on Meet the Press, Chaffetz added: “Those five people on MSNBC or whatever network that was, they all know Joe Biden does not have the wherewithal to go toe-to-toe with the single best debater we’ve seen in Donald Trump.” [Fox News, The Big Weekend Show, 4/28/24]
  • Podcaster and RNC co-chair Lara Trump claimed on Newsmax:“Joe Biden can barely read off a teleprompter, let alone stand on a stage and debate Donald Trump.” “We need debates,” she said. “But the team that Biden has is in a full-blown panic because that is the last thing they want.” [Twitter/X, 4/30/24]
  • Real America’s Voice host John Fredericks played the clip of Psaki and claimed: “Of course he’s not going to debate, he can’t get three sentences out.” Michael Faulkender, America First chief economist, commented, “This is the guy that we would want to put in place for another four years to battle with Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, and he doesn’t even know what steps to go down on Air Force One or which way to exit a stage?" He went on, “So they’ve got to hide him, they’ve got to keep him in the basement, they’ve got to keep him on a beach in Delaware because he can’t possibly get out there for 90 minutes and have anywhere near the energy that Trump has.” [Real America’s Voice, Outside the Beltway with John Fredericks, 4/30/24]

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}