Utah’s 2024 debate dreams dashed as Biden and Trump opt for independent presidential showdowns

The University of Utah was planning to host a presidential debate in October and was not told ahead of Wednesday’s announcement that Biden and Trump would bypass a third debate.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hinckley Institute director Jason Perry speaks as officials announce that the University of Utah will host a presidential debate in 2024. The news conference was held at Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. Donald Trump and Joe Biden will likely not debate at the U. now, instead opting for two independent debates.

Last year, University of Utah officials were flying high after announcing that the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates had picked the school to host the third and final presidential debate ahead of the 2024 election on Oct. 9. But that all came crashing down Wednesday morning with the unexpected news that Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump were bypassing the commission in favor of a pair of independent debates in June and September.

The first debate will be hosted by CNN on June 27, with no venue yet announced.

The U.’s Hinckley Institute of Politics Director Jason Perry, who helped spearhead the effort to bring the high-profile debate to Utah, said he was stunned by the unexpected news.

“We are disappointed, of course,” Perry said. “This news was not given to us ahead of time.”

Perry says until the debate is officially canceled, they will move forward with planning for the October event.

“We’re in a great position if something happens, and we have the opportunity to host,” Perry said.

Earlier this year, the University asked lawmakers for $6.5 million to prepare the campus to host the high-profile event. Ultimately, lawmakers refused to fund that request.

On Wednesday morning, Biden posted a video online taunting Trump, challenging him to meet on the debate stage.

“Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020, and since then, he hasn’t shown up for a debate. Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again. Well, make my day, pal. I’ll even do it twice,” Biden said.

“Let’s pick the dates, Donald. I hear you’re free on Wednesdays,” Biden added, taking a dig at Trump’s courtroom schedule.

Trump quickly accepted Biden’s challenge, posting on social media, “Biden is the WORST debater I have ever faced.”

“Just tell me when, I’ll be there. ‘Let’s get ready to Rumble!!’” Trump added.

The University of Utah hosted the only debate between then-Vice President Mike Pence and Kamala Harris ahead of the 2020 election. Scott Howell, a former Utah state senator who played a key role in bringing that event to Utah, was crestfallen by Wednesday’s news.

“I’m sad they won’t recognize the traditional debate structure, but a lot of things can happen between now and the election. I’m hopeful that Utah will still get a chance to host a debate,” Howell said.

Along with losing the opportunity to showcase Utah, Perry said the apparent loss of the presidential debate would negatively impact students.

“As we showed in 2020, it’s not just good for the state of Utah. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students to learn about the debate process and dialogue between candidates. These debates are extremely important because it’s not just about policy, but it’s a chance to see these two candidates in person and assess their fitness to do the job,” Perry said.

“It’s a positive that they’re willing to debate, though,” Perry added.

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