In a campaign year torn apart by the Coronavirus outbreak which has killed more than 205,000 Americans, President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will meet for the first time on stage in a 2020 debate in Cleveland this evening, just five weeks before Election Day.
What might we see tonight on stage? It’s likely to be a mix of some of the arguments the two candidates and their surrogates have been making for months, with some direction from the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday.
Here’s a few things to look for:
1. Trump on Biden’s mental fitness. For months, President Trump has pressed the argument that Joe Biden is barely able to speak, barely able to communicate. “He doesn’t know he’s alive,” the President often says. “He doesn’t know where he is.” Mr. Trump again this week accused Biden - without offering a shred of evidence - that Biden is taking drugs so he can perform better at debates. The President says these things so often that you wonder if he will bring it up at tonight’s debate as well.
2. Biden and past debates. Many supporters of President Trump constantly tell me that Biden cannot string together two sentences, and stands no chance to compete with Mr. Trump on the debate stage. But if you look at his past debate performances in 2019 and 2020, Biden more than held his own, whether just against Bernie Sanders, or in larger groups during the Democratic Primary. In a sense, Biden has been debating Trump since the start of the 2020 Democratic race, and many of his debate statements were aimed more at the White House than any Democratic opponent.
3. Trump team signals attack plans. A morning missive from the Trump campaign listed Hunter Biden as the number one debate topic being emphasized by the Trump Campaign. Will there be a direct question about Hunter Biden? I’m not so sure - but I do think President Trump will look to bring up the issue at some point, even if it’s not directly linked to whatever subject is being discussed. And will the President go as far as Rudy Giuliani today?
4. Look for Biden to focus on the Coronavirus outbreak. There will certainly be talk tonight about the Coronavirus, and one would expect Joe Biden will zero in on that to accuse the President of mishandling the outbreak. Maybe one gauge of tonight will not only be how the President responds to attacks from his opponent, but does Biden try to turn back to the virus at various points during the debate as well.
5. Biden and religion. President Trump has often accused Biden - a practicing Catholic - of being ‘against God.’ Maybe the biggest moment of the Democratic Primary race for Biden in 2020 involved religion, and an answer he gave at a CNN town hall in Charleston, South Carolina. Biden discussed how his faith kept him going after the death of his son Beau, as well as other tragedies in that city.
6. Trump taxes. Will the issue of the President’s tax returns come up in the debate directly? Or will Joe Biden bring it up at some point? Trump Campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh had to deal with the issue this morning on CNN. On Sunday, President Trump called the New York Times report on his taxes, “Fake news.” Democrats have already jumped all over the report that Mr. Trump paid $750 in federal taxes in 2016 and 2017.
7. Look back at the 2016 debates. If you go back and watch the President’s three debates with Hillary Clinton, you can start to think about what kind of one-liners or buzz phrases the President might come up with for tonight.