In the last two weeks, President Donald Trump has received both a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and a sudden opportunity to lock up a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Such events would ordinarily have the incumbent flying high, but Trump cannot overlook Democratic challenger Joe Biden when they face off on the debate stage Tuesday night in Cleveland.
That’s right — in exactly five days, Trump and Biden will finally have the chance to directly confront one another for all of their countrymen and women to see. This week, debate moderator Chris Wallace unveiled the six topics that will be discussed on the stage. In preparation for Tuesday’s debate, allow me to go through each of Wallace’s topics and their implications for the stage:
The Trump and Biden Records: One man has spent 45 months in the White House, while the other has spent 45 years governing at the federal level. The wrangling over “records” boils down to preference—do you prefer an anti-establishment businessman or a career Washington insider running the country? Trump’s record has higher highs than Biden’s (economic and foreign policy achievements), but much lower lows (handling of COVID-19). Biden’s success in this realm of discussion depends on how well he can present that his positions will return the country to normalcy, rather than just presenting himself as the alternative to Trump.
The Supreme Court: The actions of Mitch McConnell in 2016 have put the president in a pickle here. Trump should have no problem fulfilling his constitutional obligation to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Court. However, Democrats and some moderate Republicans have pointed out how bad it looks to break McConnell’s precedent in the very next election cycle. But with Mitt Romney’s pledge to confirm Trump’s nominee making this scenario likely, the pressure to explain the GOP’s inconsistency falls on Trump at the debate. Biden should be fine to tread lightly on this issue, as I don’t see what Trump will come up with to defend the cries of hypocrisy against his party.
COVID-19: Where to begin? The U.S. death toll hit 200,000 this week. Just how many of these deaths can be attributed to the president will remain in question for years to come. But one thing is clear: roughly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic. Biden’s COVID-19 plan calls for a national mask mandate, an idea that has gained traction in recent months. His ultimate success in this area depends on how confident he can make the electorate that his more active restrictions will not (1) further stifle small businesses and (2) delay primary and secondary students from attending schools resembling the pre-COVID-19 world.
The Economy: The Trump Administration’s economic strides of the last three years are the main reason that this election is going to be close. But this year’s “September sell-off” could spell trouble for Trump. The Nasdaq has plummeted 10% in the last three weeks, thanks mostly to the losses of big tech companies. What makes this especially worrisome is that the markets have remained quite stable during the COVID-19 recession, with some even returning to their 2019 levels. Unless something dramatic happens at the end of this fiscal year, I expect (and hope) that Chris Wallace will bring this up to the candidates. After all, the implications of this U.S. election have diverted investment strategies across the globe.
Race and Violence in our Cities: As it relates to this election, I believe that “the race for our suburbs” is a more appropriate name for this topic. President Trump has alluded that Democratic candidates pose a risk to suburbia in today’s world of social unrest. However, this message has not resonated with suburban women, whom a new poll shows supporting Biden by historic margins. Cries of “law and order” only go so far with the electorate, so Trump must be sure to articulate his proposals if he hopes to return it to our cities.
The Integrity of the Election: This topic is loaded, yet it still has a definitive answer. If Trump wins, Democrats will cry foul and allege that the Feds used the USPS to suppress ballots. If Biden wins, Republicans will cry foul and accuse local officials of ballot stuffing. Regardless, what each candidate says on this issue will be quite telling in months to come. (“I’ll keep you in suspense,” anyone?)
What’s next? Of course, the debate! It airs on all major networks on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 9-10:30 p.m. I’ll have my thoughts on that next Thursday.
Have a great week, and good luck on any early midterms!