US President Donald Trump stands in front of a US flag and participates in a round table on plasma donation during a visit to the National Headquarters of the American Red Cross in Washington, USA, on July 30, 2020.
Carlos Barria | Reuters
President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden will face each other for the first time in a face-to-face debate on Tuesday night, and despite his reigning advantage, Trump may not get the upper hand.
Polls give Biden a steady and lasting lead in national polls, including a number of major swing states. The former vice president, who triumphed over a wide range of challengers in the Democratic primary, also has much more recent debating experience than Trump.
What could be worse for Trump: Compared to 2016, fewer voters remain undecided. Large sections of the electorate have already cast their votes, and the Democrats have a big head start early on.
As president, Trump must defend his record in a number of crises that have preoccupied his administration for months – most notably the coronavirus pandemic that killed more than 204,000 Americans.
The debate also follows damn new revelations about his finances that were revealed on Sunday by the New York Times. The president paid just $ 750 in federal income tax in 2016 and an additional $ 750 the following year, and none at all for 10 of the last 15 years, the newspaper reported, citing years of his tax information.
The debate will take place at Case Western University and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and will begin at 9 p.m. ET. The game is expected to last 90 minutes without commercial breaks. CNBC.com will be broadcasting the debate live and on channels including NBC, MSNBC, C-SPAN, CNN, Fox News, CBS and ABC. Two more debates between Trump and Biden are on the agenda ahead of election day.
Here's what Trump got to do on his first show:
A tie won't cut it
There are just over five weeks left before election day, and polls show that Biden is leading the White House race.
"The president has more pressure on him," said Aaron Kall, director of the University of Michigan debate program.
"Something has to happen that will radically change the trajectory and the history of the race. You can't just fight Joe Biden for a draw," said Kall.
Kall warned that Trump cannot simply count on the expectation that Biden will make a serious mistake.
"It sounds like a big part of the strategy is having these three debates and Joe Biden will be exposed and his age and forgetfulness will come out and suddenly he will be disqualified." part of the public. "
This is the wrong step, said Kall.
"You cannot operate on the assumption that your opponent will make mistakes and then you can just use them. You have to assume that they are okay and that you have to do something to really try to move the needle ," he said.
Former Republican Senator Judd Gregg, who prepared George W. Bush for his debates in 2000 and 2004 by role-playing as Al Gore and John Kerry, told CNBC that Trump needed to tone down his combative style.
"He has to show that he understands that he can govern effectively for all Americans," Gregg said of the president.
"This election is only about a very small part of the electorate. Almost the entire electorate has made a decision," said Gregg.
The Trump campaign seems to agree that Biden's reputation for making gaffes may not guarantee victory.
Until a few weeks ago, the campaign's attacks on Biden were focused on casting doubts about his findings and pointing out that he is a "Trojan horse" for a far-left political agenda. But before the debate, Trump's team took a completely different path.
"Joe Biden is a debater who knows what he's doing," Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told CNBC in a statement last week.
Biden, Murtaugh said, "has been a Washington politician for 47 years, twice debated very well when running for vice president, and has just gone through 11 debates in the Democratic primary in which he defeated two dozen challengers."
The Trump campaign has refused to comment on the details of the president's preparations for debate. Trump said Sunday that his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are helping him prepare.
"President Trump prepares himself for debates every day by being president and building an excellent record for re-election," Murtaugh told CNBC.
Gregg said it was natural for campaign staff to "raise expectations of your opponent and lower expectations of yourself."
"But I don't think anyone will buy this," Gregg added.
Make use of the topics
Debate host, Chris Wallace of Fox News, has selected six topics for debate. You are:
The Records of Trump and BidenThe Supreme CourtCovid-19The EconomyRace and Violence in Our CitiesThe Integrity of Elections
The economy is likely Trump's strongest card in the deck, despite recent polls showing Trump's lead on this issue is diminishing in the face of the pandemic.
The Supreme Court is also an area of potential benefit to Trump. The President officially nominated Amy Coney Barrett on Saturday to fill the Supreme Court post following the recent death of senior Liberal Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Barrett, a Conservative judge who shares the philosophy of the late Judge Antonin Scalia, could be upheld by the Senate ahead of the presidential election.
"Historically, it's something that Republicans prefer," said Kall. "Now when a candidate actually has a name that people know, it's always easier to defend … if there is an actual candidate, they can extol that person and their background."
This could help increase voter turnout and enthusiasm among Trump's grassroots, and could serve as a stepping stone for him to discuss the large number of judges who have been sustained during his tenure.
Do you know Biden's weaknesses
While the Trump campaign may not be able to undo its months-long efforts to undermine Biden, the Democrat's campaign is not without its weaknesses.
Trump lowered expectations on Biden, which benefited the Democrat in his well-discussed speech at the Democratic National Convention. But the case remains that Biden was less willing than Trump to go to the press to be interrogated and answer difficult questions.
"He didn't undergo an interview with Chris Wallace like Trump," said Kall.
Gregg said Biden's "weakest card is that he has a very difficult time answering questions precisely."
"He's going to have to deal with the president, who is inherently unpredictable, so he's got to be quick on his feet," Gregg said of Biden.
Another issue for Biden could be his temperament, which he has shown flashes of throughout his campaign.
"He seems to have a short fuse sometimes," said Kall.
Trump could try to fuel Biden's anger by bringing up Hunter Biden, the son of the former Vice President, whose ties to a Ukrainian gas company were scrutinized during Trump's impeachment proceedings. A GOP-led Senate committee released a report last week calling Hunter Biden's connections "problematic" while Democrats and the Biden campaign accused Republicans of running a smear campaign.
"This is a place where he is definitely vulnerable," said Kall of Biden.
With more than four decades in politics, Biden also has a much longer record to defend than Trump. For example, Biden may have questions about his previous positions on the Iraq war and the attack on Osama bin Laden.
The President, 74, can also raise the age of Biden, 77.
Know your (missing) audience
In normal times, a presidential debate was held in front of hundreds of spectators. With coronavirus still wreaking havoc in the US, only a few dozen people are expected to watch the debate in person.
This could pose real problems for Trump, who never shied away from a crowd. Biden, on the other hand, has experience here: his debate in March with Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Which took place during an initial horror of fear of the Covid 19 crisis, took place without a live audience.
"I think the hardest thing for the president will be when you have a crowd, you have a real-time sense of what's working," said Kall. "When you don't have this feedback, you are more doubting yourself that you don't know whether to go ahead or try something else."
"He's going to have to trust his own instincts, and that might be right, but he could get things wrong," said Kall. "Unfortunately, you won't know the answer to that until the debate ends, and by then it will be too late."
Growing support from a live audience can bring an electric charge to a well-delivered point in a debate or campaign speech – a fact that Trump, whose massive rallies are a hallmark of his political career, knows well.
Presenters in presidential debates try to prevent the audience from applauding their preferred candidate – but they can struggle to contain the crowd.
Less clapping and caving can "allow a lot more substance and content into the debate," said Kall.
Promise to accept the election results
Trump made waves last week when he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost to Biden in the election.
It is not the first time that Trump has expressed skepticism about the possible election results. In the October 2016 debate on Hillary Clinton, Trump also declined to unconditionally accept the election result. "I'll hold you in suspense," Trump said at the time.
The president should turn around, said Kall.
"That would be something he would like to take back in the debate."
"Obviously the intention is to lower the turnout," said Kall, but for independent and undecided voters, "that is not the kind of message they want to hear."
Kall noted that in 2016 Trump tried to disarm Clinton prior to their debates on obstetrics – the false conspiracy theory put forward by Trump that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States.
However, Trump was still being asked about the theory in these debates. "That made Clinton win the whole debate," said Kall.