The presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden will set out their stalls this coming 29th September in Cleveland, Ohio, in the first debate of an election marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, economic collapse and demonstrations against racism.
Trump, the 45th president of the United States, deeply divisive, stood for re-election on a platform based on immigration, trade and the economy, subjects now affected by the coronavirus crisis which has damaged his chances due to his lack of leadership and his mistakes in tackling it.
At 73 years of age he will be, if he wins in November, the oldest executive to take the helm of the largest power in the world.
A former reality TV presenter and property developer, he had never stood for election to a political office until his 2016 presidential campaign.
Many advisors and allies say that Trump should not take on a political opponent but the virus, and his re-election in November depends on convincing voters that his government’s response “saved lives”, according to a report in the daily newspaper “The New York Times”.
Trump is famous for saying untruths and making statements that challenge even scientific research, among them statements related to climate change. An analysis by the daily newspaper “The Washington Post” numbered his lies at more than 15,000 during his time in government.
One of the most problematic points is his refusal to disclose his tax returns, something the Department of Justice helped with by blocking an order that demanded the release of eight years’ worth of Trump’s personal and business tax returns.
Never before has a United States president faced so many protests and attacks on his method of governing, manipulation of power and of the law.
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”, he said recently in a sign that he believes himself untouchable. On the other side is his opponent, the Democrat Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s former vice president, who at 77 years old would be the oldest president elected by the people of the United States and who is basing his campaign on being a figure who can unite the country as it goes through the worst crisis in its history.
Biden, who has been active in public life for almost half a century, emphasises his experience of government and seeks to present himself as a steady and experienced hand in a dangerous and uncertain world.
As the coronavirus has progressed, he has looked for ways for the voters to see him as the leader, by offering recommendations based on advice from experts in economics and public health, according to the assessment of “The New York Times”.
Several analyses agree that the first debate will be crucial for both contestants and point out that Trump is one of the best when it comes to beating up his opponents, without worrying about ethics and resorting to personal insults.
Paul Goldman, former Chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia and Mark J. Rozell, Dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University, estimated in an analysis published in “The Hill” that the Republican will fare badly if he comes out of the first debate without having given Biden enough of a kicking to move level or better in the post-debate opinion polls.
According to Goldman and Rozell, if the pattern holds, then without a strong enough performance in Cleveland to reset the opinion polls, Trump would be facing defeat, unless he benefits from the type of October surprise that has never occurred in the history of presidential campaigns.
However, they point out, in the contest between Trump and Hilary Clinton, the national opinion polls forecast correctly that the Democratic candidate would win the popular vote but the state opinion polls did not detect Trump’s unexpected victories in the decisive states of the electoral college.
The experts conclude that if the consensus of the opinion polls shows Trump losing by four percentage points or more after the first debate, then there is no precedent for his being re-elected.
If the opinion polls show that Biden wins the first debate by a definitive margin among independent voters and Trump’s more lukewarm Republicans, the President risks a worse defeat than any Republican incumbent who has engaged in an electoral battle since Herbert Hoover in 1932.
Starting in Cleveland, it is important to take into account some factors which will be present until November.
For example, most people don’t like Trump – only 31% like him personally and large segments of the electorate find his manner and style unattractive, while more voters like Biden. So, if personality and congeniality are key factors, Biden will win overwhelmingly.
If the determining factor is the economy, then the Republican has a clear advantage, since even in the opinion polls where he is behind by 7 to 10 points, he wins in this category by 5 or more points.
This means that a good number of voters who would currently pick Biden think that Trump would do a better job with the economy.
However, the economy is no longer the central issue but, on the contrary, just one of the many topics which in his campaign he deals with every day, focusing most on law and order lately.
Under the glare of the spotlights in Cleveland, the issue of the Covid-19 virus will stand out and Biden is likely to blame Trump for the spread of the disease, probably the decisive issue in this campaign.
The results of recent opinion polls show, moreover, that Biden is overwhelmingly seen as the person who will unite the country, by a margin of over 20 points and, according to historical records, in the majority of cases voters choose a unifier instead of a divider like Trump.