First presidential debate preview

29 Sep 2020 11:27 AM

The 2020 US presential election would have been exceptional even without the COVID-19 pandemic, but with the US economy still reeling from lockdown, facing unprecedented job losses and facing a long, hard winter, this campaign is even more consequential than usual.

The pandemic has caused several changes to the usual format, with the candidates not shaking hands before facing a smaller audience than in previous elections, with all audience members having undergone a mandatory COVID-19 test.

The debate will take place tonight at 9 pm EST (02:00 GMT), will last for 90 minutes, and will be broadcast on most major global news channels.

Moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, it will focus on six topics, with 15 minutes each on:

  • Trump and Biden’s Records
  • The vacant Supreme Court seat
  • The coronavirus pandemic
  • The economy
  • Racism and violence
  • Foreign election interference

President Trump is already a known quantity to most Americans, so the spotlight be on former Vice President Biden's performance during the debate.

The Trump campaign’s focus on Biden’s cognitive abilities may mean Biden only has to appear at all lucid to convince voters – but will Biden go on the attack, meeting Trump’s likely verbal onslaught with similar tactics, or play the bigger man?

Meanwhile, Trump’s strategy has been clear for some time: linking Biden to what he calls the ‘radical left’, and questioning Biden’s family’s business dealings. Trump is a destabilising and unpredictable presence, and he will have to prepare for some bruising criticism from Biden on the US’s poor response to the coronavirus.

One of the more contentious issues has only recently arisen: Trump's desire to appoint a new Supreme Court justice to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the election. This is a complex issue, but it is one with clear water between the candidates: Biden is calling on Trump to honour Ginsburg’s desire not to be replaced until a new president is installed.



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