Hoff: Debate do’s and don’ts for Biden, Trump


Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is a George Washington Distinguished Professor Emeritus of history and political science at Delaware State University. He has taught and published about presidential elections for 40 years.

Debates have become an expected part of quadrennial presidential elections. The scheduled Thursday debate between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump is unique in several ways, as no previous presidential debate between major-party contenders has occurred before those candidates were officially nominated. If there is a perceived winner, he will gain extra momentum going into his party’s convention. Further, the result could alter what recent polls have revealed to be an extremely close race.

Below are recommendations for the candidates, presented as do’s and don’ts, and based on each candidate’s strengths and shortcomings.


Do: Make sure to have two sources of power backup for the teleprompter.

Don’t: Look at your watch, a classic mistake made by George Bush in 1992.

Do: Remind Georgia voters that you won the state in 2020.

Don’t: Keep saying “no joke,” or you will be.

Do: Remind Georgia voters of the fake-electors scheme after the 2020 election.

Don’t: Agree to a stage with any steps.

Do: Shake hands standing up at the start.

Don’t: Be honest, like Walter Mondale in 1984, about the need to raise taxes.

Do: Study Rick Perry’s 2011 GOP debate moment of forgetfulness.

Don’t: Call refer to Trump and his followers using “Make America Great Again” here, or it may backfire.

Do: Come up with another title for the Inflation Reduction Act.

Don’t: Claim that you graduated from Emory University with honors.

Do: Ask viewers if a man with 34 convictions and dozens pending is fit for office.

Don’t: Forget to show your outrage for the attack on the U.S. Capitol, where you worked 36 years.

Do: Remember to furnish a few zingers for laughs.


Don’t: Pull a Rudy Giuliani with hair dye — the overhead lights will melt it.

Do: Make reference to your opponent as “Joe,” not as “President Biden.”

Don’t: Confuse the location of the debate — Atlanta — with Athens, Albany or Augusta, Georgia.

Do: Refer to the debate as “huge” because, as one of two currently agreed to, it is.

Don’t: Sigh or make annoying audio sounds a la Al Gore vs. George W. Bush in 2000.

Do: Wear a red tie, as it is too early to go after independents.

Don’t: Let Stormy Daniels into the building where the debate is held.

Do: Refer to Biden as an “abandoner” for the 2021 Afghanistan evacuation debacle.

Don’t: Forget to mention Wisconsin, the state of the upcoming GOP convention.

Do: Have a water bottle visible but don’t open it — it will show restraint.

Don’t: Attempt to get in a staredown with Biden, as you may nod off first.

Do: Remind viewers that the annual federal deficit has reached $2 trillion under Biden.

Don’t: Repeat the 2020 debate’s unhinged shout fest.

Do: Harp on killings by illegal migrants as a critique of Biden’s immigration policy.

Don’t: Miss the chance in closing to decimate the incumbent, as Ronald Reagan did to Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at civiltalk@iniusa.org.

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.