The first debate in Cleveland will be hosted by Fox News host Chris Wallace starting at 9 p.m. ET and will span 90 minutes with no commercial breaks. The debate has been divided into six topics: “The Trump and Biden Records,” “The Supreme Court,” “Covid-19,” “The Economy,” “Race and Violence in our Cities” and “The Integrity of the Election,” according to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Trump must deliver a performance that will dramatically alter the race at a time when voters are looking for him to explain the stunning new reporting from The New York Times that he paid no federal income taxes in 10 out of 15 years starting in 2000.
The President enters this first of three presidential debates in a far more vulnerable position than in his 2016 match-ups with Hillary Clinton, when he had no presidential record to defend and attempted to rattle the former secretary of state with frequent interruptions and by reeling off one-liners, including the quip in one debate that if he had been in the White House “you'd be in jail.” Many voters have already made up their minds about Trump, giving him poor marks for his handling of both the pandemic and the tension over race relations and police violence this year.
Trump's strategies to take down the former vice president — including his unproven charges of corruption about Biden's son Hunter, which he plans to raise on Tuesday — have so far been less effective than those he unfurled on Clinton. The President also may have miscalculated by setting a low bar for Biden Tuesday night as he repeatedly questioned the former vice president's mental acuity and called him “dumb as a rock.”
One of the few areas where Trump has enjoyed majority approval throughout his presidency has been on the economy. But Biden has begun to target the issue more openly in recent weeks, branding the campaign as a choice between Park Avenue and Scranton, Pennsylvania, drawing a contrast between Trump's history as a rich real estate mogul and his own birth in the blue-collar city.
Biden is likely to use The New York Times bombshell report on Trump's taxes, which showed the President paid only $750 in federal tax in 2016 and 2017, to try to dismantle Trump's claim to be a champion of the middle and working classes in Midwestern swing states. Biden is also expected to blame the economic collapse on Trump's mismanagement of the pandemic.Trump is claiming the economy is already roaring back in a “V”-shaped recovery, against most prevailing evidence. A CNN/SSRS poll in September showed that the President's advantage over Biden on the economy has been erased. A total of 49% backed the President to manage the economy, compared with 48% for the Democratic nominee. In May, that gap was 8 points.Trump and Biden will be battling Tuesday night over the White blue-collar voters — particularly those without college degrees — who Trump won in 2016 but are drifting back to Biden. The former vice president will argue that Trump's actions in the White House have mainly benefited himself and his uber-rich allies. In a preemptive strike to use the tax return issue to his advantage, the Biden campaign released the former vice president's 2019 tax returns earlier Tuesday, which showed he paid nearly $300,000 in federal income tax last year.
Trump is also expected to drill into Biden's record over his 47 years in politics, arguing that the former vice president would support his “radical” agenda with trillions of dollars in new spending and massive tax hikes that would cut into the bottom line for middle-class American families.
With opinions so hardened by Trump's polarizing leadership, many Americans will be tuning in to see whether Biden can withstand Trump's bullying tactics and slashing rhetoric. Biden, who has occasionally lost his cool when confronted about his family on the campaign trail, will attempt to project the image of an elder statesman who would restore calm and competence in the Oval Office.
Trump will be looking to score points against Biden by noting the violence and looting that has occurred in some American cities following demonstrations against police violence, which he blames on Democratic mayors and “socialist” politics embraced by Biden and the Democratic Party. Trump has used the argument that he is a “law and order President” to try to address his enormous gap with Biden. In recent polls, Trump has consistently trailed Biden by some 30 points among female voters.
Republicans hope that Trump's appointment of Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative judge on the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, will help win back some female voters who have been exhausted by his personal style and his tweets.
A CNN survey of election officials in 20 states showed Tuesday that more than 1.2 million people have already voted, with the majority of those ballots coming from eight of the states that CNN has ranked as most competitive.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.