The showdown – coming with just 12 days to go until Election Day on Nov. 3 – is the last chance for both major party standard bearers to make their case in front of a massive national audience watching and listing on TV, online and on radio.
With so much on the line, it’s no wonder the campaigns are trading fire over numerous aspects regarding the debate, including the topics.
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) – the bipartisan group that’s been organizing and running these faceoffs for more than three decades – announced late last week that fighting COVID-19, American families, national security, leadership, climate change and race in America will be the major topics debated in Thursday’s debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien on Monday fired off a two-page letter on Monday to the CPD urging the committee to "rethink and reissue" the topics.
“For the good of campaign integrity, and for the benefit of the American people, we urge you to rethink and reissue a set of topics for the October 22 debate with an emphasis on foreign policy," Stepien argued.
Stepien emphasized that the final debate between the two presidential nominees in recent cycles has traditionally focused on foreign policy. And he noted that while the topics chosen by the debate moderator – NBC News’ Kristen Welker – were serious and worthy of discussion, only a few of them touch on foreign policy.
The 2020 election cycle has been anything but conventional or traditional, as the nation copes with the coronavirus, the worst pandemic to strike the country and the world in a century. Last week’s second of the three scheduled debates between Biden and Trump was cancelled after the commission decided to make it a virtual showdown out of health concerns after the president was briefly hospitalized after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The president refused to take part in a debate that wasn’t being held in person.
Biden campaign national press secretary TJ Ducklo responded by accusing the Trump campaign of lying. "The campaigns and the Commission agreed months ago that the debate moderator would choose the topics,” Ducklo said in a statement to Fox News.
And Ducklo accused the Trump campaign of “lying about that now because Donald Trump afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response. As usual, the president is more concerned with the rules of a debate than he is getting a nation in crisis the help it needs.”
Here's a closer look at the topics, which will be debated in the six 15-minute segments during the commercial-free 90-minute showdown.
The pandemic swept the nation in February and March. More than 220,000 COVID-19-related deaths have now been recorded and more than 8.2 million infections have been confirmed across the country. New cases have been surging in recent days nationwide – but most acutely in the Midwest and West. Over the past week the daily average of new cases stands at 59,000, the highest since early August. And the rise comes as the cooler weather is forcing many Americans indoors.
Over the past seven months, Biden has repeatedly criticized the president for initially downplaying the severity of the outbreak, and for botching the federal government’s response. The president has defended his actions and has repeatedly claimed that the country’s “turning the corner” in combating the coronavirus.
Polls indicate the pandemic and an economy flattened by the coronavirus are the top two issues on the minds of American voters.
Race in America
Expect the two candidates to clash over this topic as intensely as they will likely trade fire over the coronavirus.
The issue has been front and center in the presidential campaign since the late spring, when the death of Black man George Floyd while in police custody in Minnesota sparked months of protests and some unrest in cities from coast to coast over police brutality against minorities and racial inequity.
"This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can't stop the violence – because for years he has fomented it," Biden charged in a speech in August.
The president has targeted Democratic governors and mayors in cities where the violence has occurred as he’s repeatedly emphasized his “law and order” approach to quelling the unrest.
The two candidates took aim at each other over the national unrest during their first debate late last month in Cleveland, Ohio.
This issue wasn’t in the spotlight at the first debate.
The wide-ranging topic could include America’s relations with two of its major adversaries – Russia and China – and may also highlight attempts by Russia and China to interfere in our country’s elections.
But national security could also include domestic threats from white supremacist groups, Antifa and the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Biden and Trump couldn’t be further apart when it comes to this issue, which was a top topic during the Democratic presidential primaries but has taken a back seat in a general election dominated by the pandemic, the economy, racial unrest, and the Supreme Court nomination battle the past month.
The former vice president has stressed that he would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, after Trump effectively pulled the U.S. out of the agreement.
During the first presidential debate, Biden distanced himself from the progressive wing of his party when he emphasized that he doesn’t support the Green New Deal. Expect more fire traded over the controversial proposal, and over where Biden stands on the issue of fracking.
This is another broad topic that could cover numerous issues.
Biden may use this section to spotlight what he calls Trump’s “lack of leadership” on combating the coronavirus.
And expect the president to likely target what he call’s Biden’s ineffectual leadership during his decades in the Senate and as vice president. Trump has repeatedly boasted to supporters that “I did more in 47 months as president than Joe Biden did in 47 years.”
This is another broad topic that could give the two candidates plenty of opportunities to target each other.
Biden might target Trump for hurting American families for his failure to get the coronavirus under control. And the president may emphasize his push to keep American families safe by cracking down on the unrest sweeping the nation.
Fox News’ Sam Dorman and Andrew O’Reilly contributed to this report.