Tonight, we are set to have our second and final debate between President Donald Trump and his challenger, former Vice President Biden. Hosted by NBC News and moderated by White House correspondent Kristen Welker, the debate is another 90-minute, commercial-free nightmare scenario in which both candidates will ignore questions and say whatever they want.
The biggest change from the first debate, which was an unmitigated disaster of a televised event, is that the candidate who is not answering a question will be muted to prevent the audio chaos that was Trump’s and Biden’s (but particularly the former’s) outbursts. Otherwise, the debate will largely be the same, format-wise. There is a list of topics that will be given a certain amount of time, and those topics will be stuck with throughout the debate.
Tonight is President Trump’s last chance to make a big, televised pitch to undecided or wavering voters in the American audience. His keys to victory are:
- Stay on message.
- Come off as competent.
- Land enough blows that Biden stumbles.
Trump’s ability to maintain a level of composure tonight that allows him to attack Biden but also give Biden enough rope to hang himself will be what wins it for him. In the first debate, one of the best critiques of his performance I read from the right was that he spoke over Biden at times when Biden was about to make a critical mistake, and it prevented the President from really capitalizing on Biden’s platform and his mental mistakes.
That could change tonight if Trump decides that he wants to do battle in a less chaotic way than he did three weeks ago.
Biden, meanwhile, has keys to victory of his own:
- Get Trump flustered.
- Talk as little about policy as possible.
- Don’t alienate the left while also not alienating the middle.
As I mentioned earlier this week, Biden’s campaign feels a lot like Romney’s of 2012. The fact that he is trying to win the middle while trying to appease yet ignore the far wing of his party makes this election a delicate balancing act, and he is a little bit old to be walking tightropes. Biden has already tried to avoid the court-packing issue by offering up a “courts commission” idea, but that may not be enough to get him out of the mess his refusal to answer the actual question has put him in.
He will also have to deal with the Hunter Biden story, which is spinning out of control now and that might be where Trump can get his biggest victory of the night. The Hunter Biden story continues to grow as more information comes out, some of which directly ties the former Vice President into the mix, and despite the media’s attempts to ignore it, it’s becoming difficult for them to do so. Biden has been very passionate about his son in past comments, and if Trump attacks Hunter in a way that is harsh but not over the top, he can force Biden into making emotional mistakes.
But that will also require the moderator to either ask the question or not cut off Trump when he goes off about Hunter, and that’s not a guarantee given the media’s treatment of the story so far.
The bottom line here, though, is that this is the last debate. It may make a difference going into November 3, but it could also just fall flat. But, we will watch it, and we will do so because we are a fallen race dedicated to self-punishment. And 2020 has been the best year to punish ourselves yet.