Upcoming Debate Will Not Be Enough to Stop Biden


Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Trump will face off in their first debate on Tuesday. (Courtesy of Flickr)

After months of attacking one another via various media outlets, President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will finally appear on stage together Tuesday, Sept.  29, for the first of three presidential debates to be hosted before the election. 

The event has been highly anticipated by both the American people and major political pundits, since many believe that the election result will be strongly related to Biden’s performance in the debates. While certain events or sound bites from presidential debates are occasionally the most memorable aspect about a candidate’s entire campaign, poll numbers suggest that it is incredibly rare for a debate to change the general election outcome. Yet, the 2020 election is by no means a conventional one, and each candidate will aim to prove themselves to undecided voters while solidifying their base. 

I recently came across several op-eds that seemed entirely concerned with who would “win” the debate on Tuesday. While I, too, am curious to see which candidate will appear more presidential and better describe their plans to lead the country for the next four years, discussing the debate as a win or lose affair is extremely disappointing. Call it idealistic, but I would prefer to see a debate less concerned with sound bites and more focused on policy and leadership.

Expectations for each candidate vary, especially with Joe Biden’s history of making “gaffes” at public speaking events. For many weeks, President Trump has capitalized on Biden’s speaking errors, questioned his mental health and implied that he is therefore unfit for office. The president has provided no evidence for any of the claims he has made about Biden’s mental state. Sources with knowledge of the campaigns have said that Trump is preparing to bombard Biden with extensive personal attacks during the debate, especially targeting Hunter, Biden’s son. 

While it is certainly disturbing that the president doesn’t want to use the debate as an opportunity to establish a coherent platform and discuss policy initiatives to contain COVID-19, why would we expect anything else? Turning the debate into a mudslinging contest seems to be the best option for President Trump as he tries to make Biden lose his temper and turn his focus away from political issues Such a strategy is concerning for Democratic allies, who worry that Biden may lose control when the president attacks his family and “[let] his Irish temper blow.” According to NBC News, the former vice president is entering the debates with more than an eight-point lead, meaning that President Trump will be looking to dominate Biden and make him look entirely unfit to lead. However, it is unclear to a lot of pundits how the president will address actual debate questions about policy. 

The event will be moderated by Chris Wallace of Fox News, Steve Scully of C-SPAN and Kristen Welker from NBC News. Wallace has chosen a debate format that is extremely structured in theory. It will be important to note whether Biden and Trump will be able to adhere to the rules put forth by the moderators, given each of their aggressive styles. 

There will be no commercial breaks and six different topics, each lasting fifteen minutes, over the following subjects: the Trump and Biden records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in cities and the integrity of the election. Pundits expect former Vice President Biden to stick to the issues and to slam the president for his response to COVID-19, among other things. While the Biden campaign has hunkered down to prepare for the debate in recent days, President Trump has reportedly taken a different approach, one that is concerning to some of his allies: “He thinks he doesn’t need any prep.” While the president was set to meet with advisors over the weekend preceding the debate, it would appear that the Biden campaign is taking things much more seriously. One Biden advisor argued that poor debate performances from the president would “put a nail in the coffin” of the Trump presidency, making it even more curious that the president would wait so long to conduct formal preparations. 

I hope that rather than personal attacks on Tuesday, we see a thoughtful attempt by each candidate to inform the American public of their platform. The media coverage of the upcoming debate has made it seem as though it will be a battle royale, a fight to the death when it should be anything but. There is a profound difference between having different opinions on how best to govern and launching brutal personal attacks. I would like to think that the American people would prefer to see the former, from a thoughtful and traditional candidate, which is why I believe Biden will thrive in the upcoming debates. Biden’s poll numbers will surge, or at least remain the same, and the president will look desperate to close the gap by making libelous attacks rather than explaining how to move the country forward. It’s an ambitious prediction to make with the election over a month away, but I believe that the debates will have no severe implications on the shape of the race, even if Biden makes one of his “gaffes.” I think that the polls are right: the American people will elect Joe Biden as their president in November. What remains to be known is if President Trump will peacefully relinquish his power or not. 

Julian Shuttleworth, FCRH ’24, is a political science major from Columbus, Ohio.