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Watching the 2016 Debates Offers a Lesson for Biden

Newser — Newser Editors

So how important is Tuesday night's debate? Oh, it's only "one of the more important moments in American political history," in the view of former Obama adviser David Plouffe.

If Joe Biden "has a really strong debate, it doesn't mean the rest of them don't matter, but I think they'll matter less—and I think he will cement a lot of the gains and leads he has in this election,” Plouffe said on his podcast last week, per USA Today. The debate begins at 9pm ET and will be on all the major networks and livestreamed. Coverage:

  • Underestimated: A story at Politico makes the case that President Trump, not Biden, is the candidate going into this debate underestimated. Ryan Lizza went back and watched Trump's debates in the 2016 race and found that "what comes across in hindsight is that he had an under-appreciated style, strategy, and message." In the GOP debates, he wasn't the "crude" Trump of Twitter or MAGA rallies, where he comes off as a "demagogue," but he learned to "master and dominate" his Republican rivals just the same. That Trump, an inexperienced debater, also "was extraordinarily effective against someone as skilled as Hillary Clinton in the three general election debates" is further proof that "he shouldn’t be underestimated." The full analysis has details from those debates to back things up.


  • Tempers: In its guide, NPR says this has all the makings of a "very aggressive debate," and it will be interesting to see if both men can control their tempers and tone. "Both have a tendency to come off as angry, and sometimes a debate is more about tone than substance because it indicates control and likeability."
  • A theme: A Reuters preview notes that Trump will surely face tough questions from moderator Chris Wallace about everything from the coronavirus response to unrest in US streets. And while Trump likes to play the blame game, a goal for Biden will be to get the public to hold the president accountable. "Will Trump have a tough time answering non-softball questions?" asks John Geer of Vanderbilt University.
  • Hunter: In its what-to-watch-for guide, CBS News wonders if Trump will bring up Hunter Biden and his involvement with a Ukrainian company. Fox News notes that Trump has been accusing the media of ignoring the Hunter Biden story, possibly setting the stage for a debate-night attack. But CBS notes that "Trump has been less likely to bring up such personal attacks when that person or his or her family is in his presence."
  • The prep: Trump has been prepping with help from Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie as stand-ins for Biden. However, CNN reports that Trump has largely shunned intensive prep and instead will rely on his "brawling instincts." Biden, on the other hand, has been clearing his schedule of late to knuckle down, with senior adviser Bob Bauer standing in for Trump.
  • COVID: Don't expect a handshake, though neither of the men will be wearing a mask, per Fox News. The story says a "small number of ticketed guests" will be in the debate hall at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and safety protocols will be in place.

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