What to Know Before the First Presidential Debate

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The first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will take place this Tuesday, September 29. Here’s what you need to know before the head-to-head between the Republican and Democratic nominees for President.

When and Where

The debate will air live from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. The debate will last 90 minutes, with no commercial breaks. You can watch the program on all major networks, cable news networks, or online through a variety of livestreams. Chris Wallace, the Fox News presenter, will serve as moderator.

Topics

As moderator, Wallace has sole discretion over the debate’s topics and questions. Last week, the Commission on Presidential Debates revealed the following six subjects. The candidates will have fifteen minutes to discuss each of them:

  1. The Trump and Biden Records
  2. The Supreme Court
  3. COVID-19
  4. The economy
  5. The integrity of the election

Surely the New York Times’ revelations about the President’s tax returns will come up when they discuss their records.

Decorum

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Trump and Biden campaigns had to negotiate a handful of ground rules. For one, Trump, Biden, and Wallace will not be wearing facial mask. The contenders will also likely shake hands, as opposed to an elbow bump, a COVID-era handshake alternative which both campaigns said would be awkward.

Additionally, there will be a live audience present, but it will be much smaller than in prior years, with just about 75-80 members. Each audience member will submit to COVID testing before the event. Finally, there will be no post-debate spin room, where reporters typically interview the candidates or their surrogates following the debate. Instead, news outlets will have to schedule private interviews with campaign surrogates to discuss the debate from a different location.

Preparation

The two candidates are reportedly preparing for the debate in different ways.

Biden has spent several weeks rehearsing the debates with a Trump imitator played by Bob Bauer, a senior Biden adviser and Obama Administration vet. He has countered Biden in mock debates by employing some of Trump’s speaking patterns and likely attack lines.

And while Biden has said he wants to fact-check Trump on stage, aides are advising the Democrat to avoid direct confrontations with the President. Instead, advisers want Biden to ignore Trump’s belligerence, and redirect to issues that matter to most voters: the economy, healthcare, and the pandemic.

Trump, meanwhile, has not done any formal debate prep, according to a few anonymous confidantes. Instead, the President has claimed that he prepares for the debate “every day” by doing his job, including frequent confrontations with reporters. The Trump campaign has not hired a Biden stand-in or rehearsed a one-on-one debate.

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