Biden - Trump debate, as it happened, reactions: USA presidential election 2020
USA election 2020 Biden - Trump presidential debate live 29/9/20
Trump-Biden audience falls short of 2016 record
The first US presidential debate between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden attracted a smaller television audience than the record set four years ago, according to Nielsen data released on Wednesday.
An estimated 73.1 million people tuned in to the chaotic face-off on Tuesday night across 16 networks, below the record 84 million viewers who watched Trump debate former first lady Hillary Clinton, his rival in the 2016 election. This represents a 13% decline from the 2016 record.
The Nielsen numbers include people watching at home and at such venues as bars and restaurants. It also included some digital viewership through televisions connected to the Internet. The figures do not capture the full extent of online viewing, which has grown in popularity as traditional TV audiences decline. The debate was streamed live on Twitter, YouTube, network websites and other digital platforms.
Fox News Channel attracted the biggest audience of any single network with 17.8 million viewers. The event, the first of three presidential debates before the 3 November election, was moderated by Fox News host Chris Wallace.
Cutting the mic
CBS’s Norah O’Donnell has been reporting that the Commission on Presidential Debates plans to cut off a candidate's microphone if they violate the rules, per an informed source, among other measures.
A view from The Onion
'Both candidates resist taking the bait of naming any specific policy'
'Trump demonstrating ideological open-mindedness by refusing to condemn white supremacy'
'Both candidates making convincing arguments for presidential age limits'
Remember folks, it's The Onion.
Global debate reaction
It's not just the American media and public that is in dismay over the state of the first presidential debate...
Alanis Morissette would be proud
A reminder of the news we brought earlier about a planned change to the structure of the future presidential debates between Trump and Biden (there are two more to go).
And here, a little irony is pointed out.
Creasing up at the propaganda
Conspiracy theories after the debate? We'd have never believed that was going to happen...
A video claiming that Joe Biden was wearing a wire during the debate has gone viral. Remember kids, when you want to make up stories, it's always a good idea to use a low-resolution phone recording of the screen!
Here's the facts, for anyone that cares...
'Biden started it'
President Trump has taken the brunt of the criticism for the descending mayhem last night but some of his supporters have found the trigger to his uncontrollable antics.
Biden responds to Trump tweet
The first debate may be over but the public spat between both candidates is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Here a repeat of the language used last night.
It's almost like they're treating it like three rounds of a boxing world title fight and building up the hype...
The Daily Show reaction
Like many, Trevor Noah could only scream at first. Then he had an idea:
"Every time a candidate says a lie…maybe a brick could come down on their side of the screen, like Tetris. And as they lie it’ll just gradually build up higher and higher until it covers their face…”
Maybe this is what the debate Commission are considering…
Changes will be made to debate
'Last night’s debate made it clear that additional structure should be added to the format to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.'
After the madness of last night, some sense...
Maybe I shouldn't say this, but the president of the United States conducting himself the way he did — I think it was just a national embarrassment.
Trump-Biden fact check
Veterans’ deaths, coronavirus spread, anti-law and order, election tampering...
There were plenty of claims being made, but were they all above board? We set our fact-checking team on a mission to uncover the facts from the fiction in the first debate.
(Spoiler: we're hoping honesty prevails in future confrontations between these two)
Philly responds to Trump
“Today there was a big problem,” Trump said in the closing moments of the debate. “In Philadelphia they went in to watch. They’re called poll watchers. A very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things.”
If you're one of those sticklers for the truth and would like to know the real story of what went down in Philly, check out this from the Inquirer.
Was this the lowest of the low points?
In a duel disrupted by angry shouting and name calling, they fought over the pandemic, violence at protests, the economy and even their families.
Mr Biden, called Mr Trump a "clown", accused him of stoking "racist hatred", and labelled him "Putin's puppy" in reference to Russia's president. Mr Trump brought up Mr Biden's son's drug use and accused him of being beholden to socialists in Democratic party.
The BBC World Service presenters were, like many, extremely disappointed with what played out - Katty Kay even suggesting her kids were better behaved at kindergarten. Here is a video clip of where that feeling was best represented.
Trump on Biden:
Joe wants to shut down this Country. I want to keep it OPEN!
If we listened to Joe Biden on coronavirus, millions of people would have died!
I did more in 47 months as President than Joe Biden did in 47 years!
Biden had plenty to say on Trump
On average, roughly 750 to 1,000 Americans are dying from Covid-19 every day. When Donald Trump was presented with that number, he said, “It is what it is.” It is what it is because Donald Trump is who he is."
On job creation
More jobs were created in the final three years of the Obama-Biden Administration than in the first three years of Donald Trump’s presidency. A million and a half more jobs.
"Under this president, we’ve become weaker, sicker, poorer, more divided, and more violent."
"You heard a lot come out of President Trump’s mouth. Can you name one thing he said to actually make your life better?"
CNN's Daniel Dale on Trump: "This president is a serial liar who keeps serially lying. Trump is an unprecedented liar in the Oval Office."
Biden attacks Trump on Covid-19 record
Biden was critical of Trump’s record on the coronavirus pandemic which has killed more than 200,000 Americans, accusing him of failing to protect Americans because he was more concerned about the economy.
“He panicked or he looked at the stock market,” Biden said of Trump, who has pushed for states to reopen their economies and played down the threat of the pandemic.
“A lot of people died and a lot more are going to die unless he gets a lot smarter, a lot quicker,” Biden said.
Trump objected to Biden using the word “smart” and defended his approach on the pandemic. “We have done a great job.”
Joe Biden defends his son in response to Trump attack
"My son ... like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem."
Biden also brought up a recent report that Trump had called members of the military “losers” and “suckers.” Biden, whose son Beau died of cancer, had served in the military.
“He was not a loser, he was a patriot,” Biden said.
More reactions from the bad-tempered clash
Plus one fact-check on a key coronavirus point.
Cutting off the mics
Not having another debate would be a major shock, but after tonight might be the best course. Cutting the mics during the two minutes statements has to happen.
Instant analysis: Who won the debate?
YouGov figures on who won the debate: 48% for Biden, 41% for Trump, 10% for the tie.
69% were annoyed by the debate. Only 17% of viewers felt informed by the debate. That's amazing it's as high as that.
83% of views felt the debate was negative, 17% positive (what would it have taken for those 17% to decide it was negative? Constant physical violence?)
VP nominee Kamala Harris says Biden addressed the American people, while Trump denigrated the office of the President of the United States.
We didn't learn much from that, other than that Trump cannot keep his mouth shut. Wallace was unable to keep control of the President who kept interrupting his opponent. The US right now is facing a pandemic, a cratering economy and racial unrest. Time for decorum and solutions you might think, but all Trump brought was combative aggressiveness.
Biden was mostly prepared for a normal debate but struggled, understandably, to get out coherent arguments in the face of the president's behaviour. The Democratic nominee did lose his cool a couple of times, calling Trump a clown and the worst president ever. He will also be annoyed he fell into the trap of debating about his son. But in general he stuck to his message and will be fairly content with his performance.
That's it. The end of the first presidential debate.
Biden says Trump will end up accepting the result. Once the ballots are counted the election will be decided.
Trump saying the Dems are cheating. One of the basics of a democracy is faith in the election. Trump does not care one jot about that.
Trump says he wants his supporters to go into polls to watch. He says it's safe. For some it's intimidation.
Fact check: Biden says there's no evidence mail in ballots are dangerous. He's right. Ellen Weintraub, commissioner of the Federal Election Commission, has said: "There's simply no basis for the conspiracy theory that voting by mail causes fraud." According to BBC, Numerous nationwide and state-level studies over the years have not revealed evidence of major, widespread fraud.
Trump saying mailman are selling ballots, dumping them in rivers... he's desperate to undermine the validity of the election.
Trump says there are lost and duplicated ballots all over the US, he says 30 to 40% of ballots are going missing, and that it might take months to decide the election. There's no evidence for this.
Trump now claiming the election will be a fraud.
Trump claiming there was no transition and that the Democrats didn't look to hand over power to him This is low conspiracy theory stuff from the President.
Biden again looking straight at the camera, addressing the American people. "Vote, vote". Biden says he'l accept the result win or lose and that whatever Trump says it doesn't matter, if the people vote him out, he'll have to go.
Biden says people should get out and vote and that mail-in ballots are safe. Makes the point that Trump votes by mail.
Final section: election integrity
Will Trump claim the election will be rigged...?
Biden asked where the line is between economy and environment. Biden says Trump hasn't created a line he's just not in favour of the economy.
Trump says Biden's approach for the green economy is $100 trillion not $2 trillion. Biden says it will create millions of good paying jobs. We don't get to a final figure on the cost. Biden says he doesn't back the Green New Deal, says he supports the Biden plan.
This is longest Trump has let Biden speak for.
Biden says he will take the US back into the Paris Climate Change accords.
We turn to Biden's view of climate change. He says thousands and thousands of jobs can be created in a green economy and get to zero carbon by 2035.
Trump on the science of climate change. He says he wants crystal clean water, and that carbon is really low. He says the forest fires are forest management.
Trump refusing to give his opinion on climate science. Does go so far as to say that he thinks human activities may contribute to it.
Trump claiming California fires are due to forest management. He has been called out by forest managers before on his claims about this.
Trump attacking Hunter Biden. Biden didn't want this. The debate breaks down. Marshall takes us onto climate change.
Biden calls Trump "Putin's puppy". Trump interrupts and Wallace shuts him down. "Your campaign team agreed to the rules", demands Trump stick to them. Trump continues to talk...
Trump says he's done more than any president in his three-and-a-half years. Says up to Covid-19 he had the best economy ever. Says Biden left a mess for the Vets, that he fixed. Says he's put in 300 judges and expects to put in 3 Supreme Court judges. Says Biden left him 128 openings. That's got to hurt for Biden and the Democrats.
Biden says Kellyanne conway said this: “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order." Trump says she didn't. She did.
Trump is deliberately pretending he doesn't know the rules, demanding to answer statements from Biden when it's not Trump's turn.
Trump on Biden: He's talking about defunding the police.
Fact Check: Biden has resisted activist calls to “defund the police,” instead promising to invest $300 million in a program that gives grants to hire more diverse officers and train them to develop less adversarial relationships with communities.
Trump on same issue: Responded to the nationwide protests over the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody by urging a militaristic response.
Biden asked what reimagining policing means. Biden says he wants the police to be given the powers to deal with what they face. He is against defunding the police. Says Trump budget cuts will defund the police.
Trump asks Biden to name one law enforcement group that has supported him. Appears Biden either doesn't want to or can't. It's playground tactics from Trump, but effective there.
Trump keeps saying Biden can't say "law and order". Despite the fact Biden said it, then shouted it.
Trump asked about ending racial sensitivity training. Says it was racist and taught people to hate the United States.
Biden says people need to be made aware of what can hurt other people, that sensitivity training is really important.
Biden says most police officers are decent people but there are a few bad apples. He says he has a plan to sit down and work it out, to ensure there is accountability.
"Violence in response is never appropriate. Peaceful protest is."
Biden says there is systemic injustice in this country to the detriment of Black people.
Next section: Race and Violence in US Cities
Marshall pleads with Trump to stop interrupting. The president says he has to tell Biden that too. The moderator says Trump has been doing almost all the interrupting. The president is determined to spoil this as a debate.
As expected Biden says he could talk about Trump's family, in allusion to Ivanka and Jared, being advisers in the White House with no experience, but says he won't. He directs himself to the American people, the "American family".
Biden: "It's hard to get a word in edgeways with this clown"
Trump now going after Biden's son and it's all got very bad-tempered. Biden says what Trump says is totally discredited.
It's very hard to have a useful debate where there's a major suspicion that most of what one candidate is saying is bluster or downright lies.
Trump claiming he brought back 700,000 jobs and Biden brought back nothing. Biden says he brought back Chrysler.
Biden - Trump will be the first president in history to leave office with less jobs than when he started.
According to CNN business earlier this month, the US economy is down 4.7 million jobs since January 2017 when Trump took office, according to the Labor Department. President Trump is heading into the general election with the worst jobs numbers of any president, based on records that go back to World War II.
Biden says Trump takes advantage of the tax code and that he will change the laws when he gets into power.
Trump: "I've done more in 47 months than you have in 47 years". That was expected and there it is.
Trump directly asked if he paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017. He refuses to answer the question, saying he paid millions in taxes.
We're onto the economy and a lot of debate about how to open up or not.
Trump claimed he only held outdoor rallies.
FACT CHECK: Trump actually held an indoor rally on Sunday 13th September in Henderson, Nevada. Around 6,000 people attended the rally at Xtreme Manufacturing drawing criticism from city officials: "The City of Henderson has issued a compliance letter and verbal warning to the event organizer that the event as planned would be in direct violation of the governor's COVID-19 emergency directives. Specifically, gatherings of more than 50 people in a private or public setting is prohibited," City of Henderson spokeswoman Kathleen Richards told CNN in a statement.
Trump claims young children aren't vulnerable to Covid: That's false. They are less likely to be affected in general and it tends to be less severe, but they can be affected and some have died.
Trump calls Covid-19 the China Plague. He always does, it's still racist and still goes against the WHO recommendations.
Trump has a mask, but says Biden is obsessed with wearing one. Biden has a good story here, saying when a reporter came up to Trump the President backed off and demanded he put a mask on. "He doesn't care about you", says Biden.
Trump's comeback is that Biden would have done big rallies if he'd been able to get the crowds.
Trump: I built the greatest ever US economy prior to the coronavirus outbreak. He claims to have generated historic economic growth, record low unemployment, and lifted millions of Americans out of poverty - and he says he will do it all again if re-elected.
According to BBC Reality Check; It's true the economy was doing well prior to the pandemic - continuing a trend which began during the Obama administration - but there have been periods when it was much stronger. Trump has never reached the peak that Obama has. During his first three years in office, President Trump oversaw an annual average growth of 2.5%. The last three years of the Obama administration saw a similar level of growth (2.3%) along with a significantly higher figure (5.5%) in mid-2014.
If we look at growth rates as far back as comparable records allow, it's clear there have been frequent periods when the growth of GDP - the value of goods and services in the economy - has been significantly higher than under President Trump. In the early 1950s, for example, annualised GDP growth rate periodically exceeded 10%.
The US economy has now been hit by the biggest economic contraction ever recorded and the highest unemployment rate in more than 80 years. In the second quarter of 2020 - accounting for April, May and June - the economy contracted by over 30%. That's more than three times greater than the 10% fall in 1958.
Biden on a roll here saying Trump said the coronavirus would be gone by Easter, or by the warm weather and that Trump said he people could inject bleach. Trump says that was sarcastic. The president is rattled.
Trump is now claiming the vaccine situation is political and the companies could speed things up. He's simply wrong about this. Medical trials take time.
On the vaccine point
There are currently 8 vaccines in the final stages of human trials. These trials are done on thousands of volunteers to understand the safety and efficacy of the vaccine candidate and usually take at least six months to complete. The vaccine candidate developed by US biotech company Moderna is undergoing Phase III trials, where 30,000 volunteers will be dosed.
The other vaccine candidate “very close to the end” as per the US President is the potential vaccine developed by the Oxford University and AstraZeneca. However, none of the vaccine candidates is slated to finish their last stage trials in the month of October, let alone be available for launch.
Leading U.S. and European vaccine developers have pledged to uphold scientific safety and efficacy standards for their experimental vaccines and not bow to political pressures to rush the process.
Trump says if Biden had his way more people would have died in USA. As expected his argument is that the Dems would have left the country open and he shut flights from China and saved lives. Trump claims they got PPE in and made ventilators.
Trump claims vaccines will be ready in a few weeks, that's not true.
Next section: Covid-19
The question to the candidates: Why should the American people trust you?
This should be Biden's time to put in some big blows. Starts by setting out the numbers, which are, as we know, horrific.
Biden says Trump doesn't have a plan. "Wrong" interrupts Trump. Marshall calls him to order. Biden says Trump needs to get out of his bunker on the golf course.
Biden finally gives up and tells Trump to shut up. "That was a productive segment. Keep yapping man".
Biden with the chance to speak regarding the President's healthcare plan: "Trump doesn't have a plan and he doesn't know what he's talking about"
FACT CHECK: Pre-existing conditions - Trump says there aren't 100 million Americans affected by pre-existing conditions. Biden says there are. According to a new analysis by the Department of Health and Human Services, 50 to 129 million (19 to 50 percent of) non-elderly Americans have some type of pre-existing health condition.
Up to one in five non-elderly Americans with a pre-existing condition – 25 million individuals – is uninsured. Under the Affordable Care Act, starting in 2014, these Americans cannot be denied coverage, be charged significantly higher premiums, be subjected to an extended waiting period, or have their benefits curtailed by insurance companies.
Biden says he's not here to fact-check Trump because "we all know he's a liar."
Trump chunters away in the background every time Biden is speaking. This may work for his base but it does come across as petulant and difficult.
Trump is in extremely combative mood
Trump clashes with Wallace
Trump talks directly over the moderator until Wallace tells him to stop. He finally gets to ask his question: what is the Trump healthcare plan?
Trump responds that he appears to be debating Wallace rather than Biden, but says that's not a surprise. Attempting to make the point that Wallace is biased against him.
Biden responds on the Supreme Court nomination
Biden says the people have a right to have a say over who goes to the Supreme Court. He says the election has started and people should be allowed to choose.
Biden says Trump is just wanting to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, which would strip 20 million people of health care. Biden says he has nothing against Barett, but she has given her opinion and that is against the Affordable Care Act.
They get into debate and Trump says he was elected for four years. It is open discussion announces the moderator. We've already had a couple of claims that each other's statements are simply wrong and it's beginning to get rather bad-tempered. Trump in particular is interrupting and appearing very grumpy.
First question on the Supreme Court nomination
Why is Trump right to nominate? He says they won the election, they hold the Senate and that Amy Coney Barrett is a great candidate. And he would have time after the election to get her into the post. He says the Democrats wouldn't give it up - they only didn't put Merrick Garland in because they didn't have the Senate.
Chris Wallace has the floor
He welcomes everyone to the event and explains the rules for the debates. Confirms no handshakes for Covid-19. The crowd are to stay silent. No noise except right now, as we welcome the two candidates. Trump and Biden take to the stage. Biden up to his podium first and looking to show some high energy.
Almost ready to start
All set. The two candidates are about to head out onto the stage. There won't be a handshake, because of coronavirus.
No opening statements, the candidates go straight to answering the questions.
107 invited guests in the venue - there are normally over 900.
Chris Wallace takes the stage
The moderator is on stage with his introduction.
Not who won or lost
Kenneth Wollack the Commission on Presidential Debates Co-Chair talking about Debate Watch parties, saying their purpose is not say who won or lost but to "share views with those who agree and those who don't, to listen respectfully to each other's opinions."
Whether both candidates think that's a good idea is another matter.
Peaceful protests outside the debate
As we reported earlier there are a number of protesters outside the venue, protesting Trump and in favour of Black Lives Matter and taking action on climate change.
The debate stage
And here's how the stage looks, with workers where the two candidates will stand.
The highest court in the land is the second topic on the agenda. Trump's nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, sits well with his base, very much less so with the Democrats.
Trump has declared victory
According to the BBC, Trump has sent out a campaign email saying he finished debating Biden and that it would "go down in HISTORY". Almost certainly a slip of a finger sending out a prepared email just a little too early.
Biden mocking Trump's claims
Trump has been talking about Biden taking performance enhancing drugs when he's speaking for some time now, a completely baseless claim (and one us journalists should press him on more - we should demand to know what they are called and not let him get away with his oft-used tactic of "oh, everyone knows") and he's now claiming Biden is planning on using a hidden ear-piece during the debate.
Mocking these claims like this is pretty clever from Biden - it comes across as likeable, and quick-witted humour quickly counters Trump's claims that Biden is old and doddery.
The Tweet is real...
But it's from 2012, ahead of the vice presidential debate between Biden and Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan.
In addition to very limited numbers of friends and family, the candidates can bring in guests, with stories to tell that will resonate with voters.
First Lady Melania Trump's chair
There's a pretty small, socially-distanced, audience in tonight.
Biden on the offensive on tax returns... and tax paid
Biden's running mate Kamala Harris has also released her tax returns. The question is how early in the debate Biden will raise the point - one tactic would be to leave it till late on, Trump will know it's coming but might get edgy because he was expecting it early on.
How important is the debate?
Throughout today I've heard figures of only five, seven and now six percent of voters being undecided - meaning the impact of the debate may not be that great... but what if they are in vital swing states or if either candidate does something so disastrous it really does lead to people who were sure they would vote for them deciding they won't.
But more than just who people will vote for at the election, this is a chance to have an in-depth look at the person who will lead the country for the next four years. Of course, we have a pretty good idea of who these two men are, but it is always worth watching the leader of the country for the next four years, whichever one of the two it is, being questioned under pressure and offering up the best they have to offer.
(Clearly the 8% who are only watching because there is nothing else on TV do not share this maybe idealistic point of view. What we also know about that 8% is that they're not interested in Man vs Food - Hall of Fame, which starts on the Cooking Channel at 9pm ET at the same time the debate starts).
Thread on Wallace
Really useful thread on tonight's moderator, Chris Wallace. The question is what, if any, influence the Trumpification of Fox has had on him.
Protests near the debate
Regarding climate change, Trump is taking the US out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, with the earliest date that could happen being the 4 November, one day after the election.
Attacking the children
CNN with a look at how one of the night's biggest flash points is expected to be about each candidate's children. Trump is likely to go after Hunter Biden for picking up juicy jobs overseas when his dad was vice president, an apparent easy retort from Biden would be to go for Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner who were brought in as advisers to the White House with no experience. Apparently though, sources with knowledge of Biden's prep say he'll look to move away from the issue rather than "engage".
Biden campaign seeking donations
The Biden campaign website also opens up with a request for cash. I'd love to know how much A/B testing they did to settle on $32 and $2800 being figures that bring in an optimised level of cash.
The Biden-Harris policy section is very detailed with a full 48 different sections, most of which contains a chunky amount of text and other content.
Trump campaign seeking donations
That's the Trump campaign website as of now, looking to bring in campaign cash with interest high over the debate. Recent reports say Biden currently has a substantial cash advantage over Trump ($466 million to $325 million at the end of August).
The Trump website does not appear to have any major policy plans for the next term - rather his policy section is limited to "Promises made, promises kept" which details what he's done in office, but not what he will do next.
Anti-Trump protesters outside debate venue
There are a number of anti-Trump protesters outside the venue for tonight's debate. This one brandishing a Trump-as-an-angry-orange-baby inflatable balloon. As far as we know that is not official Biden-Harris campaign material.
When are the next debates
If you’re already looking forward to the next debates, here are the dates for your diary:
7 October: Vice presidential debate between Vice President Pence and California Sen. Kamala Harris, at University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah
15 October: second presidential debate, at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida
22 October: third presidential debate, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee
He must have known the returns would eventually see the light of day, but likely was hoping it wasn't right before this debate. Remember the New York Times has said they'll be publishing a lot more on it - expect revelations close to each debate.
Almost certain to be mentioned this evening - the thorny issue of the next and potentially subsequent coronavirus stimulus packages. Here's our latest look at the the possibilities of a package being agreed in October.
Could tonight's debate be the most watched live program all year AND the most watched political event of all time in the US? Tens of millions of viewers are expected to tune into tonight’s 90-minute showdown. Back in 2016 when Trump first went head to head with Hillary Clinton, 84 million viewers tuned in (the second highest figures of any show that year, topped only by the Superbowl).
In 2020, the year of a pandemic, widespread civil rights unrest and a shocking revelation on the President’s tax bill, perhaps tonight’s figures may top them all…
Biden on the attack
Trump's promise was to "drain the swamp", Biden is aiming to put Trump directly in that swamp in the minds of voters.
Curiously, Trump has not tweeted over for an hour now. Some had been expecting a tweet- avalanche from the President in the run up to the debate.
Trump IS the actual sitting President
In his campaign in 2016 Trump leveraged the fact he was new to politics and was ready to shake things up. Now, however, he is the one who has been in charge for the past four years and it’s his record under the microscope. That though doesn't stop him still playing the game that he is the outsider who can change things for the better, and definitely doesn't stop him trying to blame absolutely anyone he can for any failings on his watch (Trump even bizarrely blamed BIDEN for failing to implement a national mask mandate two weeks ago, apparently forgetting who is charge).
Biden’s big job is going to be to make the mistakes that have happened stick to Trump. That said, debating experts say it would be a mistake for Biden to become too obsessed with Trump firing off falsehoods - being a real-time fact-checker can turn the audience off. They say he should focus in his own agenda.
The integrity of the election
Trump has faced persistent questions over his statements about the election being rigged and his refusal to guarantee he will accept the results. Biden will presumably push him to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
Race and violence in U.S. cities
This is maybe the most controversial topic for the debate, with black Democrats arguing that as a section it is simply anti-Black rhetoric and a scaremongering Republican talking point that is not based in reality. They point out that the protests and reactions to events this summer such as the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis were overwhelming peaceful.
Joe Biden will likely seek to use this point to focus on the Black Lives Matter movement and the need to discuss police brutality, systemic oppression, racial injustice, while Trump will likely seek to worry middle-class voters over potential violence and property damage.
Despite everything else, or maybe because of it, the economy is the NUMBER ONE topic Americans are worried about right now. Both candidates will be desperate to paint themselves as the leader most likely to be able to regrow the economy once the pandemic is over. Biden will of course mention it, but is unlikely to go for the jugular over Trump presiding the most devastating economic downturn and highest unemployment since The Great Depression nine decades ago - many will feel a pandemic is an extenuating circumstance.
Trump’s handling of the pandemic under the spotlight. The President is of course on shaky ground here, with Bob Woodward’s interviews back in February for a book, revealing that Trump knew how dangerous the novel coronavirus was, but downplayed it massively to the American people. His counter argument that he was trying to keep things calm, while taking decisive action by stopping flights from China, ring rather hollow. The death toll of over 200,000 is a point he struggles with, despite the fact he’ll claim it would have been higher without his actions.
Watch for Trump to make likely untenable claims on when vaccines and other treatments will be ready and also whether Biden can land the blow that Trump's administration unpicked the plans Obama left in place to deal with pandemic.
The Supreme Court aka Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett
Trump has already nominated Amy Coney Barrett to take the seat on the Supreme Court vacated by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg on 18 September. The Republican dominated Senate will be able to install Barrett before the election in stark contrast to their arguments over Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland, who was nominated some nine months ahead of the 2016 election, but was refused a hearing by the Republicans in the Senate who argued the people had the right to a say over the next Supreme Court Justice. This should be a fairly fiery debating point, with Democrats worried about Barrett’s stance on healthcare and and abortion rights, and Trump keen to play up her rightwing credentials.
Trump's and Biden's records
On his record, Trump will be quick to stress how well the economy was doing before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, though Biden will be equally quick to argue Trump inherited that growing economy from Obama and himself.
What will be interesting here will be to see how much personal stuff gets thrown in - the fresh new meat for Biden here is the New York Times’ revelations on Trump’s tax returns, and the possibility of arguing that Trump is either a tax dodger or a lousy businessman. Trump, for his part, has said it’s “total fake news” but his campaign has also made noises about illegal leaks, which would suggest the opposite.
Moderator Chris Wallace has chosen the following six topics for the debate, with each section getting around 15 minutes. The candidates each get two minutes before they then respond to each other’s points.
- Trump's and Biden's records
- The Supreme Court
- The economy
- Race and violence in US cities
- The integrity of the election
Chris Wallace is in charge tonight
Veteran Fox News Sunday anchor Wallace will brook no nonsense from either candidate.
Trump focusing on his 'rigged election' claims
Trump is continuing to talk about the election being corrupt, just over three hours ahead of the debate. Early voting kicked off in Philadelphia earlier on today and there were problems at some polling stations, with long lines. There were also Trump supporters out and about, with some acting in a generally intimidating manner. We're looking to see what this latest claim from Trump is actually about, beyond what appears to be an unfounded tweet from one of his campaign staffers Mike Roman.
Philadelphia is a key battle ground for the election.
Biden heading to Cleveland
Biden took off in the rain from New Castle County Airport in Wilmington, Delaware.
Trump lands in Cleveland
President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump step off Air Force One upon their arrival at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
Trump vs Hillary back in '16
If you want a reminder of how President Trump performs in these debates, here’s the first debate between him and Hillary Clinton from 26 September 2016. Clinton was widely considered to have won that, with Trump’s performance “freewheeling, aggressive, and meandering, occasionally landing a hard blow but often substance-less and hard to follow”, according to The Atlantic.
Expect Trump to be freewheeling, aggressive and meandering again tonight. Probably more so than back then.
Tune in to the debate
We’ll have a live stream here of the debate, and we’d love you to stay for our commentary too. Equally, all the major US networks and cable news channels are showing the presidential debate: ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and C-Span.
Here’s a few more options:
How are the polls looking?
Biden is leading by 7.3 percentage points nationwide, but as everyone who followed 2016 (and four other elections) knows winning the popular vote does not guarantee a candidate four years in the White House. That requires winning the electoral college with performances in swing states all important. Overall though most pollsters currently see Biden as firm favourite to become the 46th president.
Just over a month to the election
The election is on 3 November, meaning we have just over a month to go - and the stakes are pretty high for the two candidates in what may well be the most-watched political event ever in US history.
For challenger Biden this is his chance to consolidate his leading position in the polls, but equally important is not to have any major gaffes - he has been keeping a low profile over the past few months and many voters remain unconvinced by his candidacy, even if they are sufficiently turned off by Trump to want the incumbent out of office. These voters may have decided they want Trump out, but if Biden has a disaster, or is clearly lacking energy or focus, they may not be willing to vote for him.
For incumbent Trump the debate represents one of his last chances to change the downward trajectory his campaign has been over the past months - with voters beyond his hard core support unconvinced by what they see as his appalling handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, his inability to tell the truth, his angry, bullying demeanour and his over-aggressive approach to international relations.
First presidential debate: Biden vs Trump
Good evening and welcome to our live coverage of the first presidential debate between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, live from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.