What to Expect in the Final Presidential Debate

Allies hope for new tone from Trump
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2020 5:01 AM CDT
What to Expect in the Final Presidential Debate
This image provided by NBC News shows NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker.   (NBC News via AP)

After a chaotic first debate and a second one that was replaced by dueling town halls, President Trump and Joe Biden will meet for a final debate in Nashville Thursday night. Under a rule change, each candidate's mic will be muted for the first two minutes their rival speaks on each subject, meaning that there will probably be fewer interruptions than in the Cleveland clash—although since Trump's main line of attack is expected to involve Biden's son Hunter, analysts are not expecting it to be an entirely calm and sedate discussion. Biden is expected to focus on the economy and the pandemic. More:

  • The moderator. The Los Angeles Times describes NBC White House correspondent Kristen Welker as a "political junkie who got her dream job." The Harvard-educated Welker has been assigned to the White House since 2011. She is the second Black woman to moderate a presidential debate. The first was former ABC anchor Carole Simpson, who moderated the second debate between George HW Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot in 1992.

  • The topics. The debate will be divided into six 15-minute segments on topics selected by Welker, the AP reports: "Fighting COVID-19," "American Families," "Race in America," "Climate Change," "National Security," and "Leadership."
  • How the candidates have prepared. Sources tell the New York Times that Trump had a few sessions of "loose and unconventional" preparation Wednesday, with a different team of aides than in the Cleveland preparation. Biden, meanwhile, has spent most of this week preparing with a team of advisers—though the best prep may have been debating Trump the first time. "I am sure before the first debate, Joe Biden plenty of times said to his team, ‘Guys, I get it,'" Philippe Reines, who played Trump in Hillary Clinton's debate prep sessions in 2016, tells the Times. "Now he gets it."
  • A change in tone from Trump? Trump allies hope the president will adopt a less combative tone this time around, NBC reports. They note that other presidents, unused to being challenged, did poorly in the first debates of their re-election campaigns but improved in their second. "This next debate is just crucial for Trump if he's going to turn this around," says GOP strategist Alex Conant.
  • Biden's dilemma over attacks on son. Politico reports that with Trump expected to attack Biden over Hunter's business dealings, Democrats are divided over how the candidate should respond. Some say Biden should do more to highlight the conflicts of interest in Trump's family, while others argue that he should just switch focus to the pandemic. "Do we really want to have a debate about politicians’ children when people are really struggling to no end? Throw a quick combo and get out," suggests Democratic strategist James Carville.
  • Coronavirus precautions. An official from the Commission on Presidential Debates tells the Tennessean that both candidates will be tested for COVID-19 before the debate. Peter Eyre says the audience of around 200 people, including the candidates' guests, will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing. He says there will be "enforcement of the mask rule," which did not happen in Cleveland, where Trump's relatives removed their masks when the debate began.
  • How to watch. The debate begins at 9pm ET and will be carried on networks including ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, PBS, NBC, MSNBC, Noticias Telemundo, and C-SPAN, per the AP. The networks will also offer ways to watch the debate online through YouTube and other sites.
(More presidential debate stories.)

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