NASHVILLE, Tenn. — President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, meet on the debate stage for the second and final time tonight in Tennessee. The 90-minute prime-time meeting comes just 12 days before Election Day.
Some key questions heading into the debate:
Can Trump change the trajectory of the race?
National polls show President Trump behind Biden, and while some battleground state polls are tight, even some of Trump’s own allies are worrying aloud about the prospect of a serious defeat. This debate represents an opportunity to change the contours of the race while tens of millions of Americans are watching.
The President’s team may need to find a way to focus the debate — and the election more broadly — on perceived liabilities of Joe Biden. But to do that, he needs to avoid making himself the center of attention.
Will the mute button keep things civil?
The mute button has gotten a lot of attention leading up to the debate, but its impact may be overstated.
Given the interruptions in the first debate, the Commission on Presidential Debates added a new rule for Thursday’s affair that will keep each candidate muted while the other delivers his two-minute remarks at the outset of each of the six debate topics. The remainder of each 15-minute block will be open discussion, without any muting, the commission says.
The change will ensure the candidates have at least some time to answer questions without interference. Ultimately, however, the mute button can only be used for a combined total of 24 minutes of the 90-minute debate. That’s plenty of time for the candidates to mix it up.
Does Trump have a better answer for the pandemic?
The coronavirus remains an ever-present topic in this election. The candidates will need to convince persuadable voters that their solution is better for the nation.
It won’t be easy.
Coronavirus infections are surging to their highest levels in months. More than 220,000 Americans are dead. There has appeared to be conflict among both citizens and officials regarding how to navigate the pandemic; voters may be waiting for solid solutions and clear plans for the near future as a vaccine for the virus is in development.
How will Biden handle attacks against his son?
There has been focus on alleged maleficence by Biden’s son Hunter in recent days. Biden’s team expects Trump to make those allegations a centerpiece of his debate strategy.
The president tried to make an issue in the first debate of Hunter Biden and his drug use, which the younger Biden has publicly acknowledged. But Trump’s attack may have backfired when Biden declared that he was proud of his son, who, like many Americans, had fought to overcome an addiction.
The Trump campaign may have more ammunition this time around, however, following the publication of a tabloid report offering a bizarre twist to familiar concerns about Hunter Biden’s work overseas. The report centers on data allegedly recovered from Hunter Biden’s laptop, though the data has not been verified and, if it is legitimate, does not tie candidate Biden to any corruption.
Biden’s team considers the issue a distraction from much more pressing concerns — namely, the pandemic — but Biden will certainly have to defend himself and his family again tonight.
Can Biden avoid playing into a GOP narrative?
Biden’s greatest foe tonight may be himself.
Trump has struggled to find an effective line of attack against the 77-year-old Democrat, but the lifetime politician has a well-established history of gaffes that has made him the butt of Republican jokes for years.
To that end, the 74-year-old Trump and his allies spent much of the year questioning Biden’s mental and physical health. While Biden attempted to quiet those questions with a solid performance in the first debate, they have not gone away.
Biden has spent four of the last five days with no public events so he could focus almost exclusively on debate prep.
Still, Biden’s history of self-imposed stumbles raises the possibility that he could hurt his campaign, with or without Trump’s help.
The Associated Press Contributed to this report.
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