Presidential Debates

Last Trump – Biden debate: what will happen and which topics will be discussed?

The final presidential debate of 2020 sees the Republican and Democratic candidates go head-to-head in Nashville, but can Kristen Welker keep the peace?

Last Trump – Biden debate: what will happen and which topics will be discussed?
JIM BOURG REUTERS

Just 12 days before Americans go to the polls on 3 November they will have one final chance to see the two candidates share a stage for the evening. The last debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will be televised from 21:00 ET/18:00 PT and covered live on AS English.

The first presidential debate of 2020 was such a heated and chaotic affair that some even questioned whether there was any point in continuing with the remaining two debates. The second one was missed due to the President’s positive covid-19 test and subsequent hospitalisation. A number of changes have been made to help keep the discussion on track this time around, but will Trump and Biden again come to blows this evening?

Introduction of mute button causes controversy

Of all the noise surrounding the first debate, and there was plenty of it, the most telling indicator of the state of the discussion was thesheer number of interruptions. Slate recorded at least 128 times that Trump interrupted either his opponent or the moderator Chris Wallace, while Biden did so dozens of times.

To help reduce the cross-talk each candidate’s microphone will be turned off during the other’s opening remarks on each topic, hopefully ensuring they are allowed to give their initial response without interruption. Wallace struggled to get to grips with the contest in Ohio and it now falls on NBC’s Kristen Welker to keep the peace.

Trump reacted angrily to the news that he would be unable to interject, despite the fact that they were the rules agreed to by his team, describing it as “extremely unfair”.The 'mute button' will only be applying during the opening stages and will be applied exactly the same to each candidate.

What topics will Donald Trump and Joe Biden be discussing?

As in the first presidential debate the list six topics to be discussed during the 90-minute event were publicised in advance. The subjects selected by Welker ahead of tonight’s debate were:

  • American families
  • Race in America
  • Climate change
  • National security
  • Leadership

The omission of a specific foreign policy topic angered the Trump team and his campaign manager Bill Stepien launched a scathing attack on both the moderator and the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).

Stepien accused Welker of being a “radical Democrat” who was “no good”, while claiming the CPD had tried to “insulate Biden from his own history”. He continued: "The Commission's pro-Biden antics have turned the entire debate season into a fiasco and it is little wonder why the public has lost faith in its objectivity.”

In response the Democrats’ national press secretary TJ Ducklo accused the President’s team of trying to distract from his poor handling of the pandemic, saying: “Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous covid response."

"As usual, the president is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he is getting a nation in crisis the help it needs."

How will the debate effect the outcome of the election?

Usually the final presidential debate is a key event in election campaigns but this year an unprecedented number of voters have decided to cast their vote before the big day. As of 20 October 2020 over 35 million Americans have already voted, compared to just 5.9 million at the same point in 2016.

What does this mean for the debates? Well with the President behind in both national and swing state polls and fewer undecided voters remaining Trump needs a big performance to turn the tide of this election. He may opt for a slightly less confrontational manner this evening in the hope of regaining the support of suburban women who appear to be abandoning him ahead of the election. In recent public appearances the President has made a series of bizarre appeals to retain their vote. It will be interesting to see how that impacts the tone of discussion in Tennessee.