Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden will meet on the debate stage for the first time on Tuesday night, in a long-awaited head-to-head in which pretty much anything could happen.
Millions of voters will get their first opportunity to compare the candidates’ policies and personalities side by side on national television for 90 minutes, just five weeks before Election Day and as early voting takes place in some states.
When is it on?
The debate will take place at 9pm Eastern Standard Time which is 2am in the UK so you might need a pot of coffee to keep you company.
Where can I watch it?
All the major US news networks will be airing the debate, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.
If you don’t have US cable, and why would you, some of these networks stream live online.
Amazon Fire, Android, Roku, and Apple TV services will also air the debate and if you have Sky, CNN is on channel 506.
Where is the debate being held?
Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Who is chairing the debate?
Chris Wallace of Fox News will moderate the first debate.
What should we expect?
Unlike in 2016 when he was an underdog no one took that seriously, Trump has a lot to answer for this time around and will be on the defensive.
More than 200,000 Americans have been killed by Covid-19 under his watch – the highest death toll of any country in the world. Tens of millions of people are still out of work.
The country’s cultural and political divisions are widening. And do not forget the weekend revelations that Trump has paid less federal income tax than most working-class Americans for several years.
Moderator Wallace and Biden will likely press Trump on those facts.
Trump, though, seems to revel in hand-to-hand combat, and history suggests that neither facts nor any code of conduct will prevent him from saying whatever he needs to change the subject.
He can pivot to more friendly issues such as the Supreme Court confirmation fight or “law and order” – or he can jump into the mud by going after Biden’s mental and physical strength or his family.
Such personal tactics worked for Trump four years ago. But now that he is the man in charge of the country, it is unclear if voters will be as willing to accept the brash outsider act.
What about Biden?
Well the Trump campaign may have already handed him the simplest of wins.
Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.
Remember that? HuffPost White House correspondent S.V. Date, reports:
After weathering months of insults and millions of dollars in advertising painting him as senile, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden could likely just recite those five words — which President Donald Trumppreviously claimed proved his own cognitive acuity — and instantly exceed expectations in Tuesday night’s first debate.
“The president’s branding has ensured that all ‘Sleepy Joe’ needs to do to survive the debate is to stay awake,” said Terry Sullivan, a Republican consultant who ran Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential bid. “Not a real well thought-through strategy when you’re debating a guy who has a lot more experience.
“Totally,” agreed David Axelrod, who was a top aide in former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. “It is one of the only times, maybe the only time, that a candidate has so persistently worked to lower expectations for a debate opponent and build them up for himself. Usually, it’s the other way around.”
How will it affect the race for the White House?
Biden will step on to the Cleveland stage holding leads in the polls – significant in the national surveys, closer in the battleground states – but facing questions about his turn in the spotlight, particularly considering Trump’s withering attacks.
And Trump, with only 35 days to change the course of the race, will have arguably his best chance to try to reframe the campaign as a choice election and not a referendum over his handling of a virus that has killed more people in America than any other nation.
The president’s handling of coronavirus is likely to dominate much of the discussion.
The pandemic’s force will be tangible as the candidates’ podiums will be spaced far apart and the traditional opening handshake scrapped.
And the debate could be shaped by other recent moments: the death of Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, allowing Trump to nominate a conservative jurist to replace a liberal voice and reshape the high court for generations, and the revelations about Trump’s long-hidden tax history, including that he paid only 750 dollars a year in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017 and nothing in many other years.
But the impact of the debate – or the two that follow in the weeks ahead – remains unclear.
The tumult of 2020 is difficult to overstate: Covid-19 has rewritten the rules of everyday life; schools and businesses are shuttered; and racial justice protests have swept the nation after a series of high-profile killings of Black people by police, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Despite the upheaval, the presidential race has remained largely unchanged since Biden seized control of the Democratic field in March.
The nation has soured on Trump’s handling of the pandemic, and while his base of support has remained largely unchanged, he has seen defections among older and female voters, particularly in the suburbs, and his path to 270 Electoral College votes, while still viable, has shrunk.
Polls suggest fewer undecided voters remain than at this point in the 2016 campaign.
And several high-profile debates in past elections that were thought to be game-changing moments at the time ultimately had little lasting effect.
Four years ago, Democrat Hillary Clinton was widely seen as outperforming Trump in their three debates, but she lost in November.
In 2012, Mitt Romney crushed Barack Obama in their first meeting only to falter in the rematches.