What Joe Biden and Donald Trump must do for success in first debate

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The first debate for president will be one of the most notable moments in the 2020 election. A majority of Americans intend to use early voting this year. With early voting underway with several swing states, moderate and undecided voters could evaluate the performances of both candidates to make their final choices. Knowing that the issues in the first debate will be centered on the economy, the coronavirus crisis, the Supreme Court, race relations and violence in our cities, and election integrity with so much at stake for our nation, what does each candidate need to do?

In a broader sense, success for Joe Biden will in large measure be based on his ability to articulate a positive agenda of change, which includes a comprehensive message on jobs, workers, and rebuilding the economy. Biden will need to level effective attacks on all the tariffs imposed by the administration that hurt domestic industries and manufacturing, and for giving handouts to the 1 percent to the detriment of workers.

This will be critical for Biden because Donald Trump in recent weeks has started to gain ground across the nation and in swing states, due to the fact that his ratings on the economy are improving. Trump needs to tout his record over the economy before the pandemic and make the difficult case for why, despite the financial downturn induced by the coronavirus, he remains the best candidate to advance this new recovery.

Part of the strategy for Biden has been the attacks on Trump for the early downplaying and mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. In the debate, Trump must make the case that his actions on the pandemic and support for the vaccine represent a measured response to a difficult crisis, amidst evidence that he watered down the threats in the book by Bob Woodward and the fact that he trails Biden by about 7 points in the polls.

The issue of race and violence in our cities has taken on a renewed shape following the verdict in the Breonna Taylor case, which has led to protests across the nation which turned violent and resulted in two police officers being shot. This issue likely only benefits Trump and Republicans. Trump will surely use the situation in Louisville as an opportunity to tout his “law and order” message in the debate, while casting doubt for Biden and his pledge for police officers and maintaining order in our cities.

But attacks on Biden as a “puppet” of the far left will likely ring hollow if he is able to counter such attacks with a similar tone when he asked a crowd, “Do I look like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters?” Biden has the challenge of denouncing the violent protests, while saying his pledge for maintaining order in our cities and sustaining several attacks from Trump that he condones the liberal demands to defund the police.

Another focus of the debate will be on the Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, as well as the controversy about the efforts of Senate Republicans to rush a vote to confirm her. Instead of noting the hypocrisy of the rush to vote, given that Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland more than 200 days before the 2016 election and yet Senate Republicans did not give him a vote, it would be best for Biden to focus on the stances of Barrett. Biden would be wise to frame her as someone who could harm the health care coverage and abortion rights of Americans.

Biden must deliver a strong performance in the first debate, similar to the one he had in the primary debate with Bernie Sanders. Trump has mocked Biden as “Sleepy Joe” and insulted his cognition, but this may backfire for the president, given that even a mediocre performance from Biden would translate to a win, as forecasts for Biden have been lowered by the attacks from Trump. The effects of the first debate on the race are not overstated, and both candidates have a great deal on the line this week.

Douglas Schoen is a consultant who served as an adviser to President Bill Clinton and to the campaign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His latest book was “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”

Tags Americans Debate Donald Trump Election Joe Biden Politics President Voting

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