Joe Biden, Donald Trump Arrive in Atlanta for CNN Debate That Appears to Really Be Happening

Yes, it appears to be really happening: President Joe Biden touched down in Atlanta on Thursday for a presidential debate with Donald Trump that had political and media pundits tangling for weeks about who “won” the format negotiations. Biden arrived midday a bit ahead of schedule, while Trump landed later in the afternoon.

Both candidates have chosen to bypass the traditional Commission on Presidential Debates’ schedule, opting instead for ad hoc debates hosted by individual networks​. Leading off: the historically left-leaning CNN, one of the conditions demanded by the Biden Administration for the candidates’ first onstage meeting since 2020.

The White House also insisted on muted microphones while the other candidate takes his allotted speaking time, and no live audience. Trump was quick to accept these conditions that would seem to heavily favor the incumbent, and the interpretation of that concession has varied wildly – across partisan lines, of course.

On Democrat-friendly networks like MSNBC and CNN, anchors and talking heads saw it as a clear Biden victory; “Morning Joe” this week openly celebrated that Biden had “outmaneuvered” Trump. On conservative media, however, it was repeatedly suggested that Biden proposed the heavily slanted format assuming Trump would reject it, avoiding a live debate in a way that would look like Trump was to blame.

But Trump accepted – almost immediately – and no matter the intentions on either side, the debate was set for a Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern start at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. By midday, only a tiny handful of pro-Trump protesters had assembled, and not comfortably; the network located its media row deep within its secure multiplex campus, leaving protesters only a small, highway-adjacent area to demonstrate.

The moderators chosen were CNN hosts Jake Tapper and Dana Bash – harsh Trump critics, to put it mildly – with the whole thing airing on CNN, Fox News, ABC and NewsNation. A second debate, hosted by ABC News, is scheduled for September 10.

Left-leaning cable commentators suggested in the days running up to the debate that Trump would be a last-minute scratch, reading calls for drug tests and other conservative grievances as a sign that the former president wasn’t serious about accepting the date. On the conservative side, it was widely suggested that Biden was caught off-guard by Trump’s quick “yes,” and that his handlers were subsequently scrambling to prepare.

The secondary buzz around the debate was Trump’s vague suggestion that he would announce his VP candidate, but exactly when – or who that might be – were still up in the air as the debate approached.

This story will be updated throughout the debates Thursday night …

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