President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden hurtled toward Thursday night’s final debate, which may be the trailing incumbent’s best chance to change the race’s trajectory with just 12 days left until the election.
The two men headed for Nashville before the debate, which offers their final national stage to outline starkly different visions for a country.
Final debates often play an outsized role in electoral outcomes. But Thursday night’s showdown will be different from those past. More than 42 million people have already cast their ballots as part of a pandemic-era rise in early voting.
The debate, moderated by NBC’s Kristen Welker, is a final chance for each man to make his case to a television audience of tens of millions of voters. And questions swirled as to how Trump, whose hectoring performance at the first debate was viewed by aides as a mistake that turned off viewers, would perform amid a stretch of the campaign in which he has taken angry aim at the news media and unleashed deeply personal attacks on Biden and his adult son.
In an effort to curtail interruptions this time, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that Trump and Biden will each have his microphone cut off while his rival delivers an opening two-minute answer to each of six debate topics.
The mute button won’t figure in the open discussion portion of the debate.
Trying to stage another comeback in a campaign’s closing days, Trump this time is using the power of the presidency to attack his rival.
On Tuesday, he called on Attorney General William Barr to immediately launch an investigation into claims about Biden and his son Hunter.
Biden could also expect questions about his comments in a CBS interview, released Thursday, in which he wouldn’t rule out trying to add justices to the Supreme Court. The issue has followed him since the Sept. 18 death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the GOP-controlled Senate’s rush to confirm Trump’s nominee to succeed her, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
As for Biden’s family, Trump has been promoting a New York Post report from last week that cites an email in which an official from the Ukrainian gas company Burisma apparently thanks Hunter Biden, who served on the company’s board, for arranging for him to meet Joe Biden during a 2015 visit to Washington. The Biden campaign has rejected Trump’s assertion of wrongdoing and notes that Biden’s schedule did not show a meeting with the Burisma official.
After Trump’s COVID diagnosis, the debate commission ruled that the second debate, which was to have been held last week, be virtual. Trump balked, and the two men holding dueling town halls instead, speaking at the same time more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) apart.
As Trump continued to complain he was being treated unfairly by the news media, he posted on Facebook unedited footage of his own “60 Minutes” interview, where he repeatedly told CBS interviewer Lesley Stahl she would not have challenged Biden.
“You wouldn’t say to Biden what you just said to me,” Trump told Stahl when she questioned his characterization of the economy prior to the pandemic. “If he had it, you would never say that to Biden.”
After posting the video, Trump tweeted: “Tonight’s anchor, Kristen Welker, is far worse! #MAGA.”