Five things to watch for in tonight's first Trump-Biden debate

After trading shots on TV, campaign rallies and other socially distanced locations, Trump and Biden meet face to face Tuesday night

Updated: September 29, 2020 - 3:14pm

The day has finally arrived – Debate No. 1 between the defending champion, President Trump, and his contender, Joe Biden.

Before we get to the good stuff, here's the format – The debate will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes each on major topics. The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. Candidates will then have an opportunity to respond to each other. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a deeper discussion of the topic.

The topics, as announced last week by the moderator, Fox News' Chris Wallace.

  • Trump and Biden's Records
  • The Supreme Court
  • Covid-19
  • The Economy
  • Race and Violence in our Cities
  • The Integrity of the Election

But you can bet Trump's taxes will be added to that list, given the headlines of the last few days.

So there are the nuts and bolts. But what to watch for? Here's are our top five things you'll want to keep an eye on:

Mixing It Up

How much will Trump and Biden scrap? Will it be a heavyweight prize fight with each throwing haymakers, or will Biden try a rope-a-dope technique, bob and weave, stay out of the clinches? Trump, we know, will be throwing bombs, but politicos mostly agree that the race is Biden's to lose so trying not to get hit hard might be a good strategy.

Trump loves to scrap. He'll often hold court with reporters – most of them biased against him, mind you – for 90 minutes or more. Biden, meanwhile, has been dodging the press for months.

And Trump is known to go low – he loves name-calling and ad hominem attacks. Biden, for his part, might just present a more presidential demeanor, something many Americans of both parties say they want.

Will Biden Go The Distance?

Trump has been bashing Biden for his sleepy debate performances, but that could backfire. The bar is now so low that if Biden doesn't pass out on the stage, the mainstream media might just deem the 78-year-old  the winner. 

The president has spent months implying that the man he calls "Sleepy Joe" could well be senile (and Biden does misspeak more than most presidential candidates. Just last week he said "200 million" Americans have died of COVID-19). 

But Biden has always been an able debater (he spent 30-plus years in the Senate, where all he did was talk). While Trump has of late implied that Biden might be taking performance-enhancing drugs, Biden could pull out a win just by staying awake way past his bedtime.

Trump's Supreme Court Nomination

On this topic, the president will have the upper hand. The Constitution clearly states he has the right to fill a vacancy, and despite protestations from Biden and fellow Democrats, that's just what he's going to do.

The talking points of late from the Dems has been that Trump's nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barnett, will try to do away with the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), and poses a serious threat to Roe v. Wade, which deemed abortion constitutional. 

But Barnett is a woman of faith and the mother of seven, including two she and her husband adopted from Haiti. Going after her too hard could alienate women voters, and Biden's counting on them big time on Nov. 3. Look for him to not get too far afield.

How Does The Moderator Do?

Chris Wallace is a consummate journalist. Like his father, the late Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes," he likes tough – but fair –questions.

He's hit both Trump and Biden in the past. Wallace expressed frustration with Biden last month, saying he "continues to lead with what I'll call the basement strategy, adding that it was "the damnedest thing I've ever seen."

But Wallace has also blasted Trump, saying in December that he believes the president "is engaged in the most direct sustained assault on freedom of the press in our history.”

Wallace was widely praised by Republicans and Democrats after moderating the third debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016, in which he challenged both candidates. Look for that to happen again tonight.

Who Gets Off The Line Of The Night?

Presidential candidates are known to memorize a few zingers in an attempt to win the night. This debate will be no different.

Biden will likely be armed to the teeth. After reports this week that Trump paid just $750 in taxes in 2016 and 2017, look for a killer line from Biden on that topic. The Democrat will also try to give the media a zinger on COVID-19, which he blames not on the Chinese but on the president.

Trump, meanwhile, will aim to hit Biden's long but mostly vacuous record. Look for Trump to drop a line he's been using in campaign rallies: "I did more in 47 months than Biden did in 47 years" in politics – or others like it.

And last, look for a possible new nickname Trump will give Biden. He's a master troller and he might just have one more up his sleeve.

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