The Morning Brief – 10.22.20

By Bruce Carson


The Second Presidential Debate

Wrestlemania II or a frank exchange of ideas and policies

Hopefully setting out a vision for America


The debate is to take place at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee and is to be moderated by Kristen Welker, the White House correspondent for NBC News and co-anchor of Weekend TODAY.

As with the first debate it is scheduled for 90 minutes divided into six segments.

Some of the topics are new such as American Families and Leadership but others remain similar to the first debate; COVID-19, Race in America, Climate Change and National Security.


Tactics in this debate could prove to be more important than substance of the debate. Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden are now familiar with each other and what will be presented in this debate.

Trump goes into the debate trailing Biden in polls nationally and in most of what are referred to as ‘battleground’ states.

This is pretty much the situation Trump faced in 2016 with Hilary Clinton –and gives Trump’s feverish campaigning style since leaving the White House after his hospitalization some real hope for victory. He, at least, believes he can make up the difference and win again, at least in the Electoral College, where it really counts.

This debate occurs 11 days before voting day, November 3. Given the unusual circumstances of the time, COVID-19, the election result may not be known that night, but at least the campaigning will end.

Over 20 million Americans have already voted, many more than last time –usually a sign that the electorate wants a change. The change could come in the Senate with the Democrats taking control and an increased number of Democrats in the House of Representatives; and perhaps a change in the Oval Office.

Both candidates will use the debate to play to their respective bases, to ensure they vote and to party workers to get out the vote.

For President Trump, if there is a desire to attract undecided voters, he may not be as belligerent as he was in the first debate or with moderator Savannah Guthrie in the televised town hall which took place a few days ago.

However, in everything Trump has done in the campaign and particularly since leaving hospital and getting back out holding rallies, there is nothing that would lead one to believe he has changed his style or tactics. It seems he believes that he can win with his base alone and that is the group he will be appealing to in the debate. His goal will be to dominate the debate almost to the extent that viewers forget Biden is present.

For Biden, he has to convince his supporters that the race is not over just because he is leading in most polls. Biden because of his approach to the issues may still be able attract some of that undecided vote, calculated around 6% of the electorate.

With certainty, one can say that Biden knows what will confront him this evening; an even more combative and aggressive Trump than he faced in the first debate. Tactically, Biden will have to decide whether to engage or let Trump go on and on, hoping he secures his own defeat. Biden could adopt a Ronald Reagan approach of “there you go again” in response to Trump’s assertions, accusations and tirades.

Role of the Moderator:

The role that Ms. Welker plays will be crucial to the success or failure of the evening. She has the advantage of knowing how the first debate unfolded and the moderated town hall meetings and she will have a mute button to be used during the debate to stop unwarranted interruptions. Although the mute button is to be used only in the first two minute introductory remarks by each candidate for each segment, it will be very tempting to use it to prevent candidates from talking over each other.

She must be aware of the different approaches the candidates will be using to get their points across.

Whether the American people and particularly undecided voters are better informed as to the issues through this debate will depend greatly on her and above all, she can’t lose control of the debate.

Topics for Debate:

Two topics which have not been explored previously are Leadership and American Families.


This will allow Trump to talk about his four years in office and how he has changed the perception of the U.S. in the world, so that the U.S. is not being taken advantage of anymore. He will cite NATO, USMCA, China, Russia and North Korea as victories for his style of leadership. Treaties have been signed between Israel and first the United Arab Emirates and then with Bahrain and they will be heralded as Trump accomplishments. He will also talk about leading domestically on the economy and success over COVID-19 where he believes the U.S. is rounding the corner. He should be challenged as to what he wants to do in a second term.

For Biden this is an opportunity to talk about his leadership qualities and how he led the recovery back from the 2008-09 recession. He should talk about why he wants to be president and what he wants to accomplish. He will have to rebut Trump’s assertions of world leadership and he can do that by referring to America’s diminished role in the world, which comes directly from a lack of leadership.

American Families

On this topic Trump can refer to his nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States, Amy Coney Barrett, as exemplifying all that is good about American families. Again this topic gives Trump the opportunity to talk about how his economic policies have created jobs and increased the standard of living before COVID struck and in 2021,  the economy will come roaring back. Trump will use this section to attack Biden and his son Hunter concerning revelations coming from Hunter Biden’s laptop which have been referred to the FBI. Trump may threaten to have Biden arrested after November 3.

Biden can speak about the devastation brought to American families by the Trump administration neglect of COVID-19. He can refer to Trump and the battle to get another round of stimulus spending out the door. He needs to be ready to defend himself and son Hunter against attacks that will come early and often. Hopefully this has been a major part of his debate preparation.


Biden can point to the failed policies of the Trump administration, the numbers, the dead, and the fact that the U.S. is going through a third wave, with no end in sight. Trump’s cavalier attitude towards the pandemic is at the root of the recent increases in cases. Biden should also highlight the recent attacks on Dr. Fauci by Trump as symptomatic of Trump’s disdain for science and lack of preparedness as pointed out in the Woodward book.

Trump will once again talk about closing down flights from China early on. He may refer to the blessing from God that he caught the virus and that the end is right around the corner. He will argue that vaccines and therapeutics are almost ready, if not actually ready now.

On the other three topics; climate change, race in America and national security, the candidates will revisit positions from the first debate or the Town Hall meetings. The only addition would be the allegations that both Iran and Russia are interfering in the election.

Further Topics:

A number of matters do not fit neatly into the headings set out above. Two important questions are: 1) why do you want to be president or why do you want a second term in office and 2) are Americans better off today than they were 4 years ago?

In addition, there should be discussions concerning increasing the size of the Supreme Court of the United States; the peaceful transfer of power; the future of the Affordable Care Act; Trump’s personal finances which now include a bank account in China and the legitimacy of mail-in ballots.

Hopefully at the end of the debate Americans will be more knowledgeable concerning the issues and better able to make an informed decision on November 3.

To Come

  • U.S. presidential debate
October 24
  • B.C. provincial election
October 26
  • Saskatchewan provincial election
  • Two federal by-elections in Toronto
October 28
  • Bank of Canada deals with interest rates and releases its Monetary Policy Report
October 30
  • GDP numbers for August to be released