Three weeks, a coronavirus outbreak in the White House and a series of dueling town halls later, President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden return to the debate stage for their second and final debate in the 2020 presidential election.
The debate will take place Thursday, October 22 at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, starting at 9 p.m. ET, and will last 90 minutes. (I.e. 8-9:30 p.m. CT, 7-8:30 p.m. MT and 6-7:30 p.m. PT). Kristen Welker, reporter for NBC News, will be moderator.
It’s a big deal, so you’ll be able to watch it pretty much anywhere. Fox, ABC, NBC, PBS and CBS will broadcast it, along with CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CSPAN, Univision and Telemundo. The debate will be broadcast live on YouTube and can also be found on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and for an audio version, on NPR.
There were supposed to be three Trump-Biden debates this election cycle, but the timing got blurred when the president contracted Covid-19. (In fact, he may have had it during the first debate in Cleveland, as it is still unclear when he last tested negative before his diagnosis.) The Presidential Debates Commission, which is responsible for ” organize the events, tried to ensure that the second debate virtual for security reasons. Trump said he wouldn’t do it in this format, so it was canceled. Ultimately, he and Biden participated in separate town halls that aired at the same time last Thursday.
This debate is about to get a little crazy. The Trump camp has already complained that Welker is going to be unfair to him. “She’s always been terrible and unfair, just like most of the Fake News reporters, but I’m going to play along anyway,” the president said. tweeted during the weekend.
After Welker announced the topics of debate – fight against Covid-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership – Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien sent a letter to the debate committee complaining that they were not foreign policy oriented. He wrote that the topics had already been discussed “at length” in the first debate and said the campaigns had already agreed on the theme of foreign policy.
Biden’s press secretary TJ Ducklo said in a statement that the campaigns and the commission agreed “months ago” that the moderator would pick the topics and that the Trump campaign was lying to avoid talking about the pandemic . (What is essentially going on here is that Trump wants to talk about conspiracy theories about Biden and his son Hunter, and other fringe theories online, and Biden wants to talk about the coronavirus.)
The first debate had a lot of interruptions, to the point that it was difficult for the audience to follow what was going on and moderator Chris Wallace often seemed to lose control. So this time around the rules are updated a bit. Each contestant will still have two minutes to answer the moderator’s initial question at the start of each segment – but now, while one is speaking, the other’s microphone will be muted so they cannot interrupt. After these initial statements, they will fight. Will the change be useful? We’ll see.
The debate still takes place in the midst of a pandemic. At least 11 cases of covid were linked to the first debate in Cleveland; Hopefully this time around that number will be zero, and everyone – including the Trump family – will keep their masks.
We are in the home stretch
Thursday is only 12 days before Election Day, and it has been a chaotic year leading up to it. Given the pace of news this election cycle, the savage turmoil of events is likely to continue until the vote and possibly even after.
Yet one thing has remained relatively unchanged over the past few months: Biden leads the polls. Again, so was Hillary Clinton in 2016. And because of the Electoral College, winning by millions of votes doesn’t always mean winning the White House. But overall, Biden’s lead was pretty substantial and pretty stable for most of the race.
According to a RealClearPolitics poll average, Biden is up more than 8 percentage points nationwide. A survey of probable voters published by The New York Times and Siena College on Tuesday found that Biden edged Trump by 9 points nationally and found that even on the economy, where voters typically rated Trump higher, he and Biden are now basically tied.
As Vox’s Dylan Scott recently wrote, Biden also seems to be doing quite well in some important swing states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which helped tip the election in Trump’s leadership in 2016. According to FiveThirtyEight state poll averages, the race is very tight in places that, in a better year for Trump, would be safe bets, like Ohio, Iowa and Georgia. But as Scott noted, none of this means Trump can’t win, and things could end up crashing in his direction.
How could this have happened? Well, the polls could tighten in the final weeks of the race, as undecided voters make up their minds, and perhaps Republicans skeptical of Trump ultimately decide to stick with their party. Pollsters could also miss some of Trump’s voters, leading them to underestimate his support as they did in critical states in the 2016 election.
Trump seems to be at least somewhat aware that the polls aren’t very good for him and is making all kinds of efforts to turn the tide.
Thursday’s debate will likely be the last chance for candidates to defend themselves in front of such a huge platform and audience. The first debate was such a mess, with all the crossover conversations and interruptions, that it’s hard to believe that many voters could have been swayed. Maybe the trusty mute button will make this debate different.