President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden will face off Tuesday night in Ohio in the first of three presidential debates, where both candidates hope to win over a small pool of undecided voters leading up to the 2020 election on Nov. 3.
Biden, 77, enters the debate ahead in most national polls (and in several battleground states, such as Pennsylvania). He took himself off the campaign trail for several days to prepare for tonight’s faceoff, with former Obama White House counsel Bob Bauer reportedly standing in for the president during mock debates.
It’s unclear how much time Trump, 74, has spent preparing for tonight’s debate. Last week, he told reporters that answering their questions was his debate prep, and campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh told CBS News that Trump was preparing for the debate “by being president.” He’s also continued to hold large rallies across the country, most recently outside of Harrisburg, Pa.
Moderating tonight’s debate is longtime Fox News anchor Chris Wallace. Unlike the Trump-aligned opinion hosts at his network, Wallace is a no-nonsense questioner that won high marks for his sure-handed approach managing the third presidential debate during the 2016 election cycle between Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The debate will be broken up into six 15 minute segments, each focusing on a single topic chosen by Wallace and approved by the Commission on Presidential Debates — the coronavirus pandemic, the economy, the Supreme Court, each candidate’s records, election integrity, and “race and violence” in our cities (a topic that drew criticism for appearing to echo Trump’s characterization of largely peaceful protests over racial justice that have taken place across the country, including in Philadelphia).
While Wallace knows he’ll face intense scrutiny as the moderator of the first debate, his goal is not to be noticed.
“One of these two people is going to be the next president of the United States, and my job is to be as invisible as possible," Wallace said during an interview on Fox News that aired Sunday. “I’m trying to get them to engage, to focus on the key issues … If I’ve done my job right, at the end of the night, people will say, ‘That was a great debate, who was the moderator?'"
The first presidential debate will air commercial free on all major broadcast networks and cable news channels to an expected TV audience north of 70 million viewers (the first debate of the 2016 cycle drew 84 million viewers, but more will stream the debate this time around). Here’s what you need to know ahead of the debate:
The first president debate between Trump and Biden is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Eastern and last an hour and a half.
Frankly, the debate will be hard to miss. The event will air live on all major broadcast channels (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, PBS) and cable news networks (C-Span, CNN, MSNBC, Fox Business, Fox News). It will also be available to stream on a host of so-called “skinny” cable bundles, such as YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV, AT&T Now, and FuboTV (which is offering a free 7-day trial).
You can also stream the debate right here, courtesy of C-SPAN:
Wallace, 72, is the only moderator from the 2016 election cycle to return to host a debate this time around. It’s no secret why — Wallace earned widespread praise for his role moderating the final debate between Trump and Clinton (we’ll see if Tom Hanks turns up again to play Wallace on Saturday Night Live’s season premier on Oct. 3)
Among other things, Wallace pressed Trump on a familiar theme this election cycle — his refusal to commit to accept the results of the election, especially if they aren’t fully known immediately on election night.
“There is a tradition in this county, in fact one of the prides of this country, is the peaceful transition of power, and that no matter how hard fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign the loser concedes to the winner,” Wallace said to Trump during the 2016 debate. “Are you saying you’re not prepared now to commit to that principle?”
“What I’m saying is I’ll tell you at the time. I’ll keep you in suspense," Trump shot back.
While Wallace was unavailable to speak to the Inquirer, fellow Fox News anchor Bret Baier — who has worked with Wallace over the years on a number of Republican and Democratic debates — said he is uniquely qualified to kick off the 2020 presidential debate cycle.
“He’s really good at this,” Baier told The Inquirer. “Debates are not town halls, debates are not Q&A sessions — debates are an effort to get a substantive back-and-forth between the two candidates, and to create that dynamic where they’re going at each other over, ideally, substance.”
Wallace received some criticism for not including climate change among the list of topics he plans to cover Tuesday night, especially considering the recent wildfires on the West Coast. But Baier said he expects climate change and other topics — such as a Republican-led investigation that found no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden’s oldest son, Hunter — to come up during the back-and-forth between the candidates.
“People were upset that on the right that some of these investigations that are coming to fruition are not one of the topics,” Baier said. “Well, if you don’t think that Donald Trump is going to bring up the Senate report on Hunter Biden, I think you probably don’t know, President Trump.”
Here are some recent stories about the 2020 election from The Philadelphia Inquirer:
The Trump and Biden campaigns have agreed to three debates during the 2020 election: