First TV face-off between Biden and Trump 'like a reality show'
Global viewers more focused on candidates' physical condition: experts
Published: Jun 27, 2024 09:27 PM
Joe Biden (left) and Donald Trump (right). Photo: VCG

Joe Biden (left) and Donald Trump (right). Photo: VCG

The world's attention is focused on the first presidential debate of 2024 between US President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump on Thursday. Chinese experts said rather than focusing on policy, global viewers are much more concerned about the physical condition of the two candidates. 

The focus on age highlighted the phenomenon of gerontocracy in US politics, which also showed a significant flaw in the self-proclaimed democratic political system, experts said. 

Also, such TV debates are like a reality show, as the competition seems to be less about the effectiveness of policies or whose policies are superior, and more about the candidates' on-the-spot performance, they noted. 

For 90 minutes on Thursday night, Biden has the opportunity to demonstrate to skeptical Americans that, at age 81, he can handle the demands of another four-year term as he debates Trump, Reuters said. 

Both candidates face scrutiny regarding their age and stamina. Trump, at 78, is known for making outlandish statements and frequently mangling his sentences on the campaign trail, according to the media report. 

Biden exhibits a stiff gait and often makes verbal slip-ups. His public appearances are inconsistent, with his delivery ranging from well-executed speeches to rushed, mumbled remarks within the same day, Reuters said. 

The New York Times also described the two candidates as "two unpopular men" and some US media said the rematch between the two four years on "is unique" in its timing, as presidential debates usually happen in the fall months.

The debate breaks with campaign tradition, occurring months earlier than usual and with a new set of rules both candidates have agreed to, including no live audience, NPR said. 

It's also the first debate either candidate has participated in this campaign season. Biden largely ran unopposed, and Trump notably skipped the GOP primary debates, according to the US media report.  

Meanwhile, a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that most US adults plan to watch some element of Thursday's presidential debate.

"I think it's universally acknowledged by the global media that policy debates are not worth watching. Overall, there's nothing substantial to debate. What people are actually concerned about is how they perform physically," Lü Xiang, a research fellow of US studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

This year's debate has been moved up by at least three months, which is very unusual, suggesting that this year's election isn't generating much attention as nobody believes there will be meaningful policy debates, Lü said. 

"The two parties might have reached a consensus that an early debate could at least try to make the campaign a bit more lively, as it's expected that voter turnout this year will be much lower than in 2016 and 2020," the expert added. 

The share of voters who say they have high interest in the 2024 election has hit a nearly 20-year low at this point in a presidential race, NBC News reported in April, citing a latest national poll, with majorities holding negative views of both Biden and Trump.

Another major point to watch at the debate is their proposed solutions for current American issues, and while Biden will undoubtedly follow the traditional Democratic approach of "big government and small society," emphasizing diversity over uniformity, Trump will not only adhere to the traditional Republican approach but will "do so more extremely," Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

More importantly, the two candidates have significant differences in their approaches to national security, peacekeeping priorities, and responses to current challenges, experts said. 

While Trump's approach focuses on national security, particularly border security, rather than international security, to gain broad support, Biden believes that America's main security interests lie in maintaining its hegemony globally, building alliances, and even creating contentious issues, Li said. 

Although both candidates are facing legal troubles and some US media said the conviction of Biden's son, Hunter, on gun charges adds to the president's distractions ahead of the debate, some experts said the legal struggles would have little impact on the candidates' campaigns. 

"Even if Biden brings up this issue [the legal troubles] during the debate, it might not significantly harm Trump, as Trump's supporters don't care about this issue, and those who do care about it likely wouldn't support Trump anyway," Diao Daming, a professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Trump could also retaliate by pointing out the controversies surrounding Biden's son. Therefore, this topic might not necessarily be one where either side can gain a clear advantage or score more points, Diao said. 

Considering age has become a major focus of the debate, some experts said the phenomenon of gerontocracy reflects issues in the renewal mechanisms of American politics.

"There are undoubtedly talented individuals within both parties, but the current party culture makes it difficult for them to emerge. This is a clear manifestation of the sluggishness, rigidity and lack of vitality in the American political machine," Li said.