The election campaign in the US has been plagued with critical moments. But perhaps none as vital as the public debate that President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden will hold on Tuesday in Cleveland, Ohio.
Less than six weeks before the elections and with the polls showing a race that has been tightening in recent days, the performance of both in this first of three ‘Hand to hand’ is already seen as a litmus test that could well change the course of the race.
It also happens at times of high tension in the country with a Trump suggesting that he does not intend to accept the result of the elections if he loses. and the outbreak of new racial protests over the verdict of a grand jury in Kentucky that refrained from bringing charges against the police officers who killed an African-American woman in March of this year.
To add fuel to the fire is the controversy that has been unleashed by the nomination of a conservative judge to fill the vacancy she left in the Supreme Court of Justice the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the coronavirus, which has re-emerged in the country and there is already talk of the beginning of a “Second hello”.
In the environment of extreme polarization that exists in the country, the same debate and its format have given rise to a strong controversy between both parties
The exchange, which will take place at the headquarters of the University of Case Western, will be moderated by the presenter of the Fox network Chris Wallace, who has been in charge of choosing the topics to be discussed and the questions for the candidates.
And while Wallace is considered one of the most balanced journalists in this medium, Fox’s preference for the Republican candidate has been clear and Democrats believe that he will play home in this first meeting. In fact, the themes that were chosen have already provoked protests in the opposition.
The debate will be divided into six segments, each lasting 15 minutes, and will last an hour and a half without interruptions for commercials.
The themes Wallace chose were “Trump’s and Biden’s record.”, “The Supreme Court of Justice”, “covid-19”, “the economy“, “Race and violence in our cities” and the “integrity of elections.”
According to Democrats, by framing one of the issues as “race and violence in our cities” you are doing Trump a favor
According to Democrats, framing one of the issues as “Race and violence in our cities” Trump is being done a favor, because while protests over racial injustice have led to some episodes of violence, the vast majority have been peaceful events limited to a very few areas.
“By framing the debate in this way, you are trying to give credence to Trump’s narrative that the country is under siege by mobs of violent and extremists who are trying to take over the cities and that he, as a candidate for the ‘law and order’, is the best equipped to face them. But none of that is happening. And by the way, the origin of these protests is minimized, which is the violence of the police against Afro citizens ”, a source in the Biden campaign told this newspaper.
Likewise, they think that talking about “Integrity of the elections” is to give Trump a space to continue attacking absentee voting and delegitimizing the election results in advance, despite the fact that there is no evidence that voting by mail is open to fraud.
It is the most classic error in the world of debates. If you lower your rival’s expectations, you raise your own and allow the other to get away with it even if it doesn’t go very well.
On the president’s side, they affirm that Wallace has always been very tough with Trump and emphasize that the other two debates that follow will be moderated by journalists from NBC and C-SPAN, media that they generally label fake news.
Either way, the stakes are very high. Biden comes to the debate on somewhat favorable ground, since much of what is about to be “judged” is Trump’s record in these four years in the White House. In that sense, the handling he has given to the coronavirus and the economic crisis that the pandemic has caused put him on the defensive.
Something that has been reflected in the polls, where the former vice president takes him between 5 and 10 points of advantage (6.6 in the average of Real Clear Politics polls).
In addition, Trump has spent months mocking the mental capacities of Biden, whom he often calls “Sleeping Joe.”. This week he even suggested that Biden takes drugs and challenged him to a medical exam.
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“It is the most classic error in the world of debates. If you lower your rival’s expectations, you raise your own and allow the other to get away well even if it does not go very well. As long as Biden doesn’t make big mistakes, he can be victorious, because Trump has already told the world that he is debating with an inferior, “says Todd Graham, director of debates at the University of Southern Illinois.
Biden has also shown in recent days that he handles the issues in depth in the face of a Trump who is usually not very specific and tends to go around the bush. But if the debates of 2015 and 2016 showed something, it is that the president is not, at all, a classic opponent.
Without being an expert, he destroyed in this format the 16 Republican candidates who faced him during the race for the presidential nomination of his party. And among them was Senator Ted Cruz, who was supposed to be a “magician” at the time of debate.
And he did it through an unbuttoned style, giving his rivals nicknames and turning the debates almost into street fights. “For Trump, the bottom line is not the substance but rather the projecting of authority and power. It is the way the public perceives it. And his years on television made him a master at this, ”Graham said.
If not that Hillary Clinton says, who lived it firsthand in 2016.
While there was consensus that she won all three debates, it was Trump who ultimately fared best in the field of public opinion. Likewise, the president’s tendency to openly exaggerate or lie – according to the Washington Post, he has carried more than 25,000 lies or half-truths since he came to the White House – makes it very difficult not to fall for his provocations.
“Trump,” says Graham, “is like a street instigator who does not respect rules when it comes to debate and Biden needs to adjust his strategy if he wants to prevail. If he doesn’t, he may win the debates in technical terms, but he could lose in terms of image.
Many think that at this point and given the deep partisan divisions that exist in the country, the debates will not influence much in the decision of voters who long ago opted for one side or the other.
Can be. But in an election that could be defined by minimal margins, the series of exchanges that begin this Tuesday could well be the weight that is missing to tip the balance.
SERGIO GÓMEZ MASERI