What to Expect During the September/October Presidential Debates

With Election day approaching fast and nominations secured, Trump and Biden have only a few more opportunities to attract support to their campaigns before November. The debates, which will take place on September 29th in Cleveland, October 15th in Miami, and October 22nd in Nashville, will be the first times that the two presidential nominees have debated on the same stage. Here’s what we can expect to see during what will likely become some of the fiercest and highly anticipated debates in modern election history.

Trump and Biden will go head to head for the first time in months on September 29th.

BBC News

Trump and Biden will go head to head for the first time in months on September 29th.

Nick Sanchez-Zarkos, Staff Writer


-The Questions-

The debates, which will each last around an hour and a half, will likely cover countless topics ranging from Covid-19 to post-election plans. Below are topics that will likely be addressed during the three moderated events, from most probable to least probable. 

  • The Coronavirus – One of the only topics guaranteed to be addressed during the debates is the coronavirus. Biden and President Trump, who have historically had different approaches to the handling of the global pandemic, have never had the opportunity to directly debate one another over the topic. Biden, who has been pushing for a national mask mandate and increased testing, has constantly criticized President Trump’s handling of the virus, describing it as “all whining and self-pity”. President Trump, however, has downplayed the virus since the very start, claiming it would just “go away”. As the pandemic continues to ravage the country, and nearly 200 thousand Americans are dead because of it, we can be sure to expect that this topic will be covered in some way during the September and October debates.
  • Climate Change- Climate change has been of continued importance during this election, but because of recent events, there has been increased attention on the matter. With fires raging across the southwest, spreading smoke across the country as far as Massachusetts, and orange skies lasting over a week in some Californian cities, it is highly likely that climate change will be addressed during the debate. Biden, who has worked with former Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer to create a substantial plan to combat climate change, has had a completely different approach to the topic than President Trump. Biden has promised that the United States will have 100% clean energy by 2050, and set out milestone targets to reach by 2025. President Trump, however, has continuously denied that climate change is a problem, recently addressing the California wildfires by saying “It (rising temperatures) will get colder” and “I don’t think science knows”. With our current climate crisis becoming an increasingly large and noticeable threat to our country, this topic is almost guaranteed to be discussed during the three debates. 
  • Black Lives Matter/ Protests- This summer saw a historic number of mass protests over police brutality and the killing of black men and women in the United States. Following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, protests spread across most major American cities, with calls for change reaching as far as Belgium. According to the New York Times, the BLM protests were actually the largest protests in American history, with over 15 to 26 million participants across the country. While the majority of protests have been peaceful, encouraging legislation change, police reform, and an end to brutality, there has been a focus on the riots and violence that occurred as a result. President Trump has taken an especially large interest in the less peaceful protests, telling his supporters that the violence represents what “Joe Biden’s America” will look like. While Biden has stayed relatively quiet about the violent protests that have taken place, his campaign has addressed the BLM movement and topic of systemic racism, even inviting the Floyd family to speak during the first night of the Democratic Convention. Due to the large media coverage of BLM protests and the increased attention on racial justice, we will be sure to see the protest topic addressed in some way during the debates.
  • Economy- President Trump and Biden have vastly different goals and plans for the American economy if they are to win the election. One of the strongest points for President Trump supporters is the claim that the United States’ pre-pandemic economy saw historically low unemployment rates, and had all-time highs in the stock market. While much of the economic improvement was inherited from the Obama administration, this argument is mostly valid. The Trump administration has seen economic improvements, but since the pandemic began, much of the improvement has been lost. Biden’s economic plans, however, differ vastly from the “America First” policy of President Trump. Biden’s economic focus would likely address the economic inequality in the country. The Biden administration is also hoping to tighten regulations on the environment, consumers, and investors. Rather than a focus entirely on America, Biden’s economic plans will focus heavily on interaction with American allies as well. While both candidates have differing economic views and plans, with the United States economy in grave danger during the pandemic, this topic will likely spark interesting conversations during the debates. 
  • China- Regardless of your political affiliation or candidate preference for this election, the topic of China is one of significance. Trade, economy, technology, and more, the role of China in our country is a critical piece of our election. Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden promise to reduce reliance on the country, urging less trade and improved relations. President Trump’s approach includes cutting of ties with China altogether, encouraging more reliance on American goods and jobs. Biden however, wants to end reliance on trade with China by pursuing trade agreements with other countries, with the intention of countering China dependency. Both candidates feel similarly about China, but their approaches differ drastically. It is likely that we will see some of these differences and disagreements between the two on the debate nights. 


-The Moderators- 

Chris Wallace, an anchor from Fox News will moderate the first debate on the 29th. He was previously a moderator for a Clinton and Trump debate back in 2016. 

Steve Scully from Washington Journal will moderate the second debate on October 15th. He will be followed by the moderator and NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker on the 22nd. 


-What We Can Expect-

Quite understandably, there has been a lot of anticipation building up to these debates, as Biden and President Trump have not had much face to face interaction since before the pandemic. Both campaigns have approached past debates in wildly different manners, President Trump often taking a more aggressive approach, and often spewing out (often rather false) facts of information and attacks on his opponents. Most notably, based on his performance in 2016, President Trump resorted to accusations, interruptions, and exaggerations. Despite this being a considerably rash and even inappropriate tactic, President Trump’s strategy was surprisingly successful, giving him lots of attention both during and after the debates. 

Biden’s approach has changed significantly since his first VP debate against Paul Ryan. Biden dominated the debate back in 2012, essentially eliminating any doubt that Obama would get reelected. Employing a call-and-response strategy, Biden spent much of the debate countering Ryan’s claims about the Obama administration.

Biden changed up his strategy once more when he first entered the Democratic Debate stage. Biden had a large advantage over his former competitors due to his former position as Vice President, which gave him more questions than the rest of the nominees. But in the beginning, Biden’s performance on stage was poor, to say the least. Failing to reach the 60-second mark when asked questions by the moderators, Biden struggled to defend himself from attacks from fellow candidates (including his recent VP pick Kamala Harris). As expected, he spent most of his time mentioning the successes of the Obama campaign, rather than his plans if elected.

As the debates picked up speed and candidates dropped like flies, Biden increased his momentum. There were a few weeks in early winter where Biden’s polling numbers were scarily low- giving many the impression that his dropping out from the race was soon to come. Despite this, Biden employed an extremely aggressive tactic that boosted his performance in the final debates. Rather than defending himself and his prior administration, the former Vice President spent his energy attacking his strongest competitor, Bernie Sanders. Biden’s new aggressive technique is predicted to carry on into the debate later this month and in October. 


-The Verdict… and Projected Winner-

One thing we know for sure is that President Trump has not been on the debate stage since 2016. The Trump administration, however, has without a doubt spent countless hours planning for these upcoming debates. Below are my predictions for how the debates will go.


— President Trump will without a doubt put all his energy on stage toward messing up Biden. Many political ads have been structured and focused on Biden’s mistakes and mishaps during speeches, and we can expect the same during the debates. Biden will likely match President Trump’s aggressiveness, focusing on the destruction of Trump’s campaign on America. We are guaranteed to hear Biden attack President Trump for his handling of the Coronavirus, Climate Change, and inequality (both economic and systemic). 

While both candidates will bring the heat, Biden will without a doubt end out on top. With an impressive Town Hall this month and a lead in national polls, it is evident that Biden is not drawing punches. If Biden gives enough of a performance on night 1, it is even possible that President Trump may encourage the debate to be the only one between the two. There were speculations in late August that President Trump debated not even attending the debates altogether.


Night one will likely have high viewership, as the long-awaited clash between the two candidates comes after months of no face to face interaction between the two. No matter your preference in candidate, it is undeniable that September 29th, October 15th, and October 22nd will be dates to go down as some of the most critical of the remaining days before November 3rd.