As Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden square off for their first of three debates in Cleveland Tuesday night, what can viewers expect?
Trump, the hard-hitting counter-puncher and Biden, the play-by-the-rules debate veteran each have their own game plan, set to their own styles.
Trump has had trouble moving the needle up "until now," Mo Elleithee, founding executive director of Georgetown University's Institute of Politics and Public Service, told Fox News. "It’s been a remarkably static race. The clock is ticking louder and louder. So he needs to find a way in these debates to change the narrative, to change the conversation, and to start to alter the fundamentals of this race."
Elleithee, who was a senior spokesman for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and communications director for the Democratic National Committee, said Trump will likely try to find "a way to shift the conversation away from COVID-19, which continues to be the greatest anchor weighing him down."
GOP consultant Jim Merrill told Fox Trump will continue GOP efforts to tie Biden to the far left of the Democratic Party.
"I think the president will work hard to tie Biden to (Senate Democratic leader) Chuck Schumer, (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi, and AOC (progressive star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York) and to spotlight the rise of violence in the streets this summer," he said. "He'll try to push Biden to the left, that he’s too radical to be elected."
The Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib recently wrote that Biden has to make his case to the American people in the first half hour of the debate.
"Clearly, a lot of Americans don’t particularly like the president, and many decided long ago they simply won’t vote for him," Seib wrote. "Yet, Mr. Trump also proved in 2016 that there also are plenty of other voters who may not like him personally, yet they will vote for him anyway, particularly if they think the alternative is worse."
Ronald Reagan used the only debate of 1980 with President Jimmy Carter — in Cleveland — to turn the polls his way, Seib notes.
"For his part, Mr. Trump will merely be trying to 'allow people to say, "I don’t like Trump, but I may have to vote for him,"'" Seib wrote.
For Biden's part, he needs to "keep the pressure on Trump when it comes to COVID, keep the president on the defensive on other issues like his tax returns," Elleithee said.
The former vice president "also needs to make sure that people who are uncomfortable with the president see him as a credible alternative," he added. "And standing side by side as the president is a great opportunity to do this. Biden needs to offer people and demonstrate that he is a credible alternative to where things are today."
Merrill noted that Trump's unpredictability will aid him in the debate.
"He’s a better debater than people give him credit for. I do think he’s going to try and rattle Biden," he said, and that includes mentioning his son, Hunter Biden.
"And I think what we’ve seen from Biden is that he can get angry and when he gets angry, he makes mistakes," Merrill said. "For Trump tonight, a win for him is Biden looking either tired or slow, or gaffing. And we all known Biden’s prone to gaffing. If the president can force Biden into doing that, it’s going to be a good night for him."
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