Trump v Biden: High stakes ahead of crunch US debate

29 September 2020, 21:44

President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are gearing up for their first debate
President Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden are gearing up for their first debate. Picture: PA

By Megan White

President Donald Trump and Joe Biden are set to clash in their first debate in the 2020 presidential election, with high stakes for both candidates.

Listen to the debate live and in full on LBC News from 2am on Wednesday morning.

The Tuesday night debate in Cleveland, Ohio, will offer a massive platform for Mr Trump and Mr Biden to outline their starkly different visions for a country facing multiple crises, including racial justice protests and a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans and cost millions of jobs.

Mr Biden will step on to the 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 Mr Trump's withering attacks.

Read more: Trump and Biden to clash in first head-to-head presidential debate

And Mr 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.

It comes just days after The New York Times revealed that Donald Trump only paid $750 (£578) in federal income taxes the year he ran for president and in his first year in the White House.

Hours ahead of the debate, Mr Biden released his 2019 tax returns, with running mate Kamala Harris also posting her federal and California tax returns from the same year.

His return shows that he and his wife, Jill, made $944,737 in taxable income last year and paid $299,346, or a 31 per cent tax rate, in federal income taxes.

The report into Donald Trump's tax returns also revealed that in 2016 and 2017, Trump or his companies paid tens of thousands of dollars of taxes in foreign countries, including $15,598 in Panama, $145,400 in India and $156,824 in the Philippines.

Trump campaigned for office as a billionaire real estate mogul and successful businessman, but his tax returns claim he made losses of hundreds of millions of dollars across a number of his businesses.

He has fiercely guarded his tax filings and is the only president in modern times not to make them public, and the report comes a little over a month before the US Presidential election.

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 Mr 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.

But some debates have mattered: most famously, a turning point in the 1960 race was when John F Kennedy was perceived - at least by TV viewers - as outduelling Richard Nixon.

And in 1980, Ronald Reagan was able to reassure nervous voters that he possessed a presidential temperament when he delivered a winning performance against incumbent Jimmy Carter.

While both sides anticipate a vicious debate between two men who do not like each other, the Biden campaign has downplayed the night's importance, believing that the pandemic and the battered economy will outweigh any debate stage gaffe or zinger.

Conversely, the Trump campaign has played up the magnitude of the duel, believing it will be a moment for the president to damage Mr Biden and recast the race.

Mr Trump had told advisers that he is preparing an all-out assault on Mr Biden, claiming that the former senator's 47 years in Washington have left him out of touch and that his family, namely his son Hunter, has benefited from corruption.

The president on Monday also repeated his demand that Mr Biden take some sort of drug test, asserting without evidence that the Democratic nominee was somehow using a performance enhancer.

While Mr Trump's campaign has of late praised Mr Biden's debate skills, the president has also vividly portrayed his opponent as not being up to the job, potentially allowing Mr Biden to come off well as long as he avoids a major stumble.

"This guy doesn't have a clue. He doesn't know where the hell he is," Mr Trump said recently, likening the debate to a boxing match and pointing to his head.

"To win matches you need that up here. This wins, probably, it's 50% of it. This is not prime time for Joe."

But Mr Trump - never a polished debater, though a commanding presence on stage - has done little in the way of formal preparations, which may mean he is walking into his own trap.

Mr Biden's performances during the primary debates were uneven, and some Democrats have been nervous as to how he will fare in an unscripted setting.

But his team views the night as a moment to illuminate Mr Trump's failings with the pandemic and economy, with the former vice president acting as a "fact checker on the floor" while bracing himself for the onslaught that is coming.

"They're going to be mostly personal," Mr Biden said.

"That's the only thing he knows how to do. He doesn't know how to debate the facts because he's not that smart. He doesn't know that many facts."