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President Trump and Democrat Joe Biden will meet on Tuesday evening for the first of three presidential debates in the general election.
The debate is at stake and carries risks for both candidates.
Here are six pre-debate questions to be moderated by Fox News Sunday Host Chris Wallace starting at 9 p.m. ET and held at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
1. Can Trump avoid the burglary of the seated president’s first debate?
Presidents standing for re-election often have problems in their first debates. It happened to Barack Obama, both bushes, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Some recovered; Some didn’t.
“What happens to an incumbent president is they spend four years in office to be deferred and agreed to,” said Alan Schroeder, author of Presidential Debates: Fifty Years of High Risk Television. “It is difficult for the staff to challenge a seated president directly. So when they get up in the debate phase, they are not used to being violently and directly addressed and criticized. By definition, they are also from practice.” “”
Trump, of course, defies the odds, breaks the rules, and appears to be constantly fought, so it may not matter. An NBC report earlier this month showed that Trump did not appear to take the preparation of the debate seriously or even hosted mock sessions at all. But another one from the Washington Post on Friday Trump reveals he is preparing blistering, personal attacks against Biden.
As Trump asserts himself in a serious 90-minute debate after nearly four years of president and a record to defend – and not being the rock-throwing outsider – is a real wild card.
2. Does Biden come across as competent?
It’s no secret that Trump and his campaign tried to label Biden incompetent, over the hill and not everyone there. But this approach for Trump carries tremendous risk as he and his allies have lowered the bar significantly on Biden.
“The people who just want to get rid of Trump will be happy when Biden shows up, if he doesn’t break down in the middle of the debate and whatever he says, even if it’s wrong or a gaffe – like 200 million [who have died from the coronavirus] – They’ll refuse, and people will just give him a pass, “said Mary Frances Berry, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania.” It has to be what he called Obama – it has to be clean and articulate, but it doesn’t. I don’t even have to articulate, just be clean. “
It has been more than a year since the first primary democratic debate when people asked the same question. Let’s face it: Biden is 77 years old and would be 78 years old when he was sworn in as president. He’s not the same debater and orator as he was a decade ago. But while he had some spotty major debates, he also had good ones. And, certainly, Biden has competed in his public appearances throughout the general election campaign, including his speech at the Democratic National Convention and a recent CNN City Hall.
3. Can Trump and Biden control their minds and tone?
It is very likely that this will turn into a very aggressive debate with Biden trying to indict Trump’s record and who knows what Trump will get out of it.
Both tend to get angry and sometimes a debate is more about tone than substance because it shows control and sympathy. With two well-known candidates like these two candidates, that may not matter at all, but when they lose their coolness it can lead to negative narratives from both.
“Trump is Trump,” said Schröder. “There is never a big difference in the way he presents himself, whether it’s a press conference, a debate or a White House rally. So he is who he is. I don’t think he is in his performance will modulate in some way. ” the debate.”
However, Schröder added that it will be interesting to see if Trump and Biden can control their minds and if either one takes the big bait the other is going to put out for him.
4. How does Trump defend his record?
From the coronavirus pandemic and racial relations to the Supreme Court replacement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Trump’s tax filings, those 90 minutes could go by. Trump certainly has his back against the wall and needs to defend his record and expand his appeal to the middle of the electorate.
So far, Trump has continued to decline in polls, averaging just 43% across the country. It received 46% in 2016 and lost the referendum by 3 million votes. With the electoral college’s votes distributed, it is possible that Trump could win again but lose the referendum by even more, but from Team Trump’s point of view, this is not a good starting point.
One reason he has not been able to expand his appeal is that independents and suburban voters, both groups he won last time, have disagreed with him on most issues since he took office. And they overwhelmingly disapprove of the work he’s doing in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. How does Trump deal with the substance of these concerns that voters have about his management, aside from calling it the “China virus” and simply claiming he did a great job?
5. How does Biden react to personal attacks?
Trump must make Biden an unacceptable choice instead of continuing to let that election be a referendum on him. One way Trump is likely to try this – and turn away from his own record – is to track Biden’s son Hunter.
Who knows what Trump has up his sleeve? Remember, this is the same person who brought women into debate who accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct and tried to put them into Hillary Clinton’s point of view. How Biden reacts will be important. The fact is: Biden has the problems on his side. His thematic positions on most things align far more with the middle of the electorate than Trump’s positions, so Biden could try to get out of the way and focus on topics that matter to the country.
But Trump has a unique way of steering events. Whether or not Biden can steal some control might be key.
6. How does the moderator control the stage?
Speaking of control, there is probably no one better placed than to moderate this particular debate Fox News SundayChris Wallace. Wallace is astute, a tough questioner, and prepared, as evidenced by his interview with Trump in July.
Debates can go very far south if a moderator is not in control. How and how much will he scrutinize both candidates, Trump in particular, since he can be so combative and good at dealing with things that are not true? How will Trump react to Wallace pushing back?
“Trump has to be careful that Wallace pounces on him,” said Berry. “If that happens and Trump is out of whack, he can lose support for people on the fence.”
And how does Biden react when he is pushed too? Biden’s ability to give and take will also deal with the question of his competence, but unlike Trump, Biden spent half a century in politics.