Topics for First Trump-Biden Debate

The general election campaign is about to kick off in earnest.

The Commission on Presidential Debates has announced the topics for the first match-up between President Trump and Joe Biden, to be held next Tuesday night—exactly five weeks before Election Day:

The first presidential debate will be held on Tuesday, September 29 at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH. The format for the first debate calls for six 15-minute time segments dedicated to topics announced in advance in order to encourage deep discussion of the leading issues facing the country.

Chris Wallace, moderator of the first 2020 presidential debate, has selected the topics for that debate.

Subject to possible changes because of news developments, the topics for the September 29 debate are as follows, not necessarily to be brought up in this order:

*The Trump and Biden Records
*The Supreme Court
*Covid-19
*The Economy
*Race and Violence in our Cities
*The Integrity of the Election

All debates start at 9:00 p.m. ET and run for 90 minutes without commercial interruption.

A single moderator strikes me as more useful than a panel and Wallace is a pro. I’m more than a wee bit skeptical of the ability to have a meaningful dialogue about any of those issues in 15 minutes but, alas, that’s what passes for “debate” these days.

That said, the topics are rather overlapping, especially for Trump. Biden has no record on Covid-19 or the economy, both of which Trump owns.

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FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, Joe Biden
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m more than a wee bit skeptical of the ability to have a meaningful dialogue about any of those issues in 15 minutes but, alas, that’s what passes for “debate” these days.

    I’m concerned that Trump won’t be able to compress his vast erudition on virus transmission, economic theory and the history of race in America into such a short time.

    The big question is: what new insulting nickname will Trump come up with for Biden?

    And of course, if you’d like to be properly anesthetized, the drinking game has to be a shot for every time Biden says, ‘Folks…’

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’m more than a wee bit skeptical of the ability to have a meaningful dialogue about any of those issues in 15 minutes but, alas

    Yep.

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  3. Kathy says:

    I’m more than a wee bit skeptical of the ability to have a meaningful dialogue about any of those issues in 15 minutes but, alas, that’s what passes for “debate” these days.

    Because it gives Trump an extra 14 minutes and fifty seconds, once he has expressed all he knows about each subject?

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  4. Michael Cain says:

    Sigh… The national forests are burning down. What looks to be easily the most active hurricane season on record. Second largest Arctic sea ice melt ever. Antarctic ice shelves starting to collapse. They’re not going to ask questions about climate change at any of the debates, are they? What a godsend for Trump, who always sounds like a fool on the subject.

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  5. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Cain: Climate change may be the single most important topic right now, though it’s not the one likeliest to move voters. I’m a bit disappointed that health care isn’t among these topics, though I’m sure it will come up during the Covid-19 and SCOTUS discussions, and it’s something I expect (and hope) Biden to focus on.

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  6. Mr. Prosser says:

    Does anyone think there may not be more than one debate? Especially if trump has his bum handed to him.

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  7. Jen says:

    @Mr. Prosser: Yes. It’s entirely possible, I think, that if he does terribly in the first one, he’ll refuse to engage in others.

    He’s already establishing the grounds for declining, too. He keeps insisting that Biden be drug-tested before a debate–in which case, quite frankly, he should be tested too, with witnesses there to confirm that it is indeed his sample being tested.

    This is an exceedingly strange thing to be insisting on, but as we all know with Trump everything is projection, so I wonder what exactly he’s thinking of taking.

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  8. Robert in SF says:

    @Mr. Prosser:
    Maybe we haven’t accepted it, but I remind myself that to his die-hard supporters, President Trump can’t lose the debate or perform poorly. Whatever he says, however he says it, will be spun in their minds and Facebook posts at the most incredibly appropriate, 5-D Chess game, well-reasoned, plain spoken, blunt, honest, “he says what I’m thinking”, witty, gotcha responses to debate questions and VP Biden’s points/counter-points.

    He might not do more than one debate because he physically can’t handle it, but not because he’s worried about his fan(atics) will respond. His base is solid and there are none so blind as those who will not see!

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  9. Robert in SF says:

    I’m really disappointed in the topic title: *Race and Violence in our Cities
    It’s clearly only going to be directed at the BLM movement, since they are the only group with race in their title, and of course President Trump will focus on that no matter how the question is phrased.
    I mean sure there are white-power, racist groups protesting, with clear dog-whiste names, and any ‘fringe’ groups that do have ‘white race’ names are not the focus of the news or general discussion due to media coverage and FB memes in the general populace.
    But they won’t be the focus. Only BLM.

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  10. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    I wonder what these mysterious debate-enhancing drugs are.

    In Trump’s imagination, that is.

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  11. Jen says:

    @Kathy: No idea, but he’s utterly convinced that Biden’s well-received DNC acceptance speech was the result of some kind of performance-enhancing drug.

    He tweeted something about receiving a shot in the behind…this sounds really specific, and really makes me wonder what the heck is on the hamster wheel in Trump’s head.

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  12. mattbernius says:

    @Robert in SF:
    Well said about the explicit linking of race and violence in that question category.

    Also, again, the fact that this is a category in these debates is a reminder that maybe, just maybe, the 1619 project has a point when it said that Slavery is a critical component to understanding our founding and everything that happened after it.

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  13. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    Older people get all sorts of medications daily. Most are taken orally, but things like vitamins can be delivered via injection.

    I don’t see how a drug can enhance debating skills. Consider drugs used to enhance performance in sports, and you run into things like steroids to overbuild muscles, erythropoietin to make excess red blood cells to provide more stamina, and I forget a drug used in Olympic shooting to steady one’s muscles or tendons to prevent shaky hands.

    I can0t think of one that would result in more cogent thought or more incisive rhetoric.

    I can see a politician on campaign overindulging in caffeine and energy drinks, to stay alert (though a short nap midday might be more effective). That leads to thoughts of amphetamines, which would be a major concern (and militaries sometimes still use them on front line troops). But being more alert doesn’t make you debate better.

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  14. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy: No solid proof, but there is a great deal of evidence that he takes mood altering drugs.

    First, there is Procepia, which he no doubt takes for its marketed use: hair loss. But there are many side effects, some of which Trump exhibits, and there have been a lot of lawsuits over them. As one doctor put it: “The stories laid out in court filings are enough to make a bald man accept a hairline in full retreat. Complaints chronicle sexual dysfunction, mood swings and ruined relationships, even suicides, allegedly linked to the pills intended to keep hair intact. “The company intends to defend against these lawsuits,” Merck said, in a statement.” There have been lawsuits involving memory loss too.

    There have been a couple of claims from people who say they saw Trump snort Adderall during the filming of the Apprentice, but they come from highly politicized people but these were fairly vague and there has not been a flood of people piling on, as there has been for sexual abuse allegations. On the other hand, he does exhibit all the signs

    Finally, we know that he has been involved with a couple of sketchy doctors. The first, Harold Bornstein, was a long time physician for Trump, with offices in Trump Tower. He admitted that he let Trump dictate his public statement regarding Trump’s fitness for office. In 2018 Bornstein alleges that Trump sent three men to “raid” his office and seize Trump’s medical records. Next up is Ronny Jackson, who Trump bizarrely sought to elevate from “physician to the President” to Secretary of Veterans Affairs. When this was announced, sources started spilling the beans on Jackson’s drinking habits and propensity for handing out prescription drugs with such abandon he became known as “The Candyman”. Despite being investigated for drug and alcohol abuse by the navy and being replaced as personal physician to the President, Trump kept him on in the White House with unknown duties until he resigned to run for Congress in the great state of Texas.

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  15. MarkedMan says:

    What Wallace tries to ask about or how he attempts to handle the debate is irrelevant. My real concern is that Biden will try to actually debate Trump. A much, much better strategy would be to alternate between pitching his usual pitch (pivoting off Wallace’s questions or ignoring them as he sees fit) and relentlessly calling out Trump’s odd behavior. When Trump says something strange, call it out. “My god man, that sentence didn’t make any sense at all.” “You owe the people an answer on that, you should focus on the question and not just spin off into nonsense.” And if Trump starts roaming around the stage, “What the heck are you doing? Do you remember where you are at?” This may seem aggressive, but I guarantee Trump will either shut down or melt down spectacularly.

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  16. EddieInCA says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And of course, if you’d like to be properly anesthetized, the drinking game has to be a shot for every time Biden says, ‘Folks…’

    Sorry Michael. I think you’d get drunk faster taking a shot every time Trump says either “powerful” or “Like nobody has ever seen before”.

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  17. Jen says:

    @MarkedMan: Now that is a debate that would be worth watching.

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  18. Michael Cain says:

    @Kathy:

    I don’t see how a drug can enhance debating skills.

    For a period of time, I took bupropion as a mild “focus” aid. It’s not a completely standard use, but it affects some people (including me) that way.

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  19. Jen says:

    @Michael Cain: Propranolol is a beta blocker used for high blood pressure, but is also sometimes prescribed to address stage fright for people who have trouble with public speaking.

    I don’t really think that’s at issue for Trump though…stage fright does not appear to be an issue for him. 😉

    There are probably a number of off-label uses for medications that would to some degree or another help people, but not to the extent he seems to be suggesting about Biden. I think that has more to do with him believing his own bullsh!t about Biden not being sharp.

    Or, possibly, an overconfidence in what medications can do. If that’s the case, this should be an interesting debate.

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  20. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Complaints chronicle sexual dysfunction, mood swings and ruined relationships, even suicides, allegedly linked to the pills intended to keep hair intact.

    Propecia is an anti-androgen, Finasteride. Such side effects are to be expected. Male pattern baldness often is related so some form of circulating testosterone.

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  21. Kathy says:

    @Jen:

    Or, possibly, an overconfidence in what medications can do. If that’s the case, this should be an interesting debate.

    I think that’s the case. Trump makes it sound as though Biden were a blithering idiot (projection), who then takes a shot and suddenly rivals Lincoln, Churchill, and Cicero as master orator.

    If that’s the case, and he can name the drug, he should be taking it himself.

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  22. mattbernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And of course, if you’d like to be properly anesthetized, the drinking game has to be a shot for every time Biden says, ‘Folks…’

    What are the rules if he hits a “come on man?!” or, perhaps most dangerous for our livers, a “MALARKY!”?

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  23. Scott F. says:

    @MarkedMan: When he debated Paul Ryan for VP, Biden made really good use of the derisive chuckle whenever Ryan spouted some of his deep thoughts with faulty math on the economy. I expect Biden to go that way with Trump as well. Biden should show some righteous anger when the topic is COVID-19, then spend the rest of his time letting Trump be nonsensical while shaking his head in disbelief.

    I’m thinking of Sarah Cooper’s masterful lip-synch videos of Trump. They are simply Trump’s own words accompanied by the occasional “WTF” eye roll, but they could not be clearer in exposing POTUS’ absurdity.

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  24. dazedandconfused says:

    @Kathy:

    I don’t see how a drug can enhance debating skills.

    I can0t think of one that would result in more cogent thought or more incisive rhetoric.

    Did Trump win with either of those two things?? Heck no. Gingrich’s Observation: “You can’t debate someone who lies all the time.” is a valid one. These events are much closer to WWE events than college debates. Thus cocaine, and as much as possible.

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  25. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Here’s a topic for the debate, from an article in The Atlantic Monthly:

    “According to sources in the Republican Party at the state and national levels, the Trump campaign is discussing contingency plans to bypass election results and appoint loyal electors in battleground states where Republicans hold the legislative majority. With a justification based on claims of rampant fraud, Trump would ask state legislators to set aside the popular vote and exercise their power to choose a slate of electors directly. The longer Trump succeeds in keeping the vote count in doubt, the more pressure legislators will feel to act before the safe-harbor deadline expires.”

    So the question should be: How far advanced are your plans to steal the election?

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  26. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Why wasn’t the link included in the post? Here it is:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/what-if-trump-refuses-concede/616424/

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  27. Michael Reynolds says:

    @mattbernius:
    I think ‘malarky’ has to be accompanied by something equally old-school. Like a boiler maker.

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  28. gVOR08 says:

    @Robert in SF:

    Maybe we haven’t accepted it, but I remind myself that to his die-hard supporters, President Trump can’t lose the debate or perform poorly. Whatever he says, however he says it, will be spun in their minds and Facebook posts at the most incredibly appropriate, 5-D Chess game, well-reasoned, plain spoken, blunt, honest, “he says what I’m thinking”, witty, gotcha responses to debate questions and VP Biden’s points/counter-points.

    I remember the 1988 Bentsen-Quayle VP debate. Everybody remembers the “you’re no Jack Kennedy” line. Otherwise Quayle stood there seemingly frozen, but now and again rousing himself to blurt out some apparently random Republican talking point. The next day half the press rated Quayle’s performance positively, saying he may have been a novice at debate but got his points out.

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  29. Beth says:

    Propecia is an anti-androgen, Finasteride. Such side effects are to be expected. Male pattern baldness often is related so some form of circulating testosterone.

    I always forget that Finasteride and Propecia are the same thing. This is relevant because its commonly prescribed to Trans-women as a Testosterone blocker for those who can’t handle the side effects of Sprionolactone. Which is a blood pressure medication that is also used a Testosterone blocker. I can see a scenario where a Cis-male has his testosterone blocked causing extreme problems. Which, in Trumps case, would be HILARIOUS.

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  30. Joe says:

    I think it’s interesting that Politico has an article up about Trump’s team’s concern that Trump has set the bar too low for Biden in the debate. Whatever else the article says, it comes off as a counter attempt to move the bar up for Biden and down for Trump.

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  31. Jen says:

    @Joe: Yep. I’ve wondered this too. This goes directly to the point I made earlier about Trump believing his own BS about Biden.

    My guess is that Trump has convinced himself that Biden is about three weeks away from being committed to an old folks’ home, and that he’ll smoke Biden in the debate with his witty one-liners. I further guess that Trump will blow off thinking he needs to do any prep work, because, come on, Biden?

    And when the debate rolls around, the downplaying of Biden’s abilities is going to bite back.

    The reverse of this was literally an episode of the West Wing.

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  32. Kathy says:

    @Beth:

    Maybe the poor thing has just entered manopause.

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  33. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy:

    I can0t think of one [drug] that would result in more cogent thought or more incisive rhetoric.

    LSD.

    Obviously it depends on the baseline, but there are people who would definitely sound more cogent if they were describing their hallucinations rather than their daily delusions.

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  34. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Good point. Trump particularly seems like a worthwhile candidate for an experimental study of it.

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