Politics

The way to watch the final Trump-Biden debate

Three weeks, a coronavirus outbreak in the White House and a number of dueling town halls later, President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden return to the debating stage for their second and final debate on the 2020 presidential election.

The debate will take place on Thursday, October 22nd, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, starting at 9 p.m. ET and will last 90 minutes. (That's 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. CT, 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. MT, and 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. PT). Kristen Welker, a journalist with NBC News, will moderate.

It's a big deal, and so you can see it just about anywhere. Fox, ABC, NBC, PBS and CBS will air it, as will CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, CSPAN, Univision and Telemundo. The debate will be streamed live on YouTube and can also be found on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Roku, and for an audio version on NPR.

Vox will also embed a live stream here, closer to the start time of the debate.

There were supposed to be three Trump-Biden debates this election cycle, but the schedule got messed up when the president signed Covid-19. (He may actually have had it during the first Cleveland debate, as it's still not clear when he last tested negative before his diagnosis.) The Presidential Debate Commission, which is responsible for organizing the events, tried that second debate virtually as a security measure. Trump stated he wouldn't do it in this format so it was canceled. Ultimately, he and Biden attended separate town halls which aired at the same time last Thursday.

This debate is on the way to being a bit doozy. The Trump camp has already complained that Welker will be unfair to him. "It was always awful and unfair, just like most fake news reporters, but I'll play the game anyway," the president tweeted over the weekend.

After Welker announced the topics of debate – fight against Covid-19, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership – Trump's campaign manager Bill Stepien sent a letter to the Debate Commission complaining that they were not foreign policy-focused. He wrote that the issues had already been discussed “extensively” in the first debate and that the campaigns had previously approved the foreign policy issue.

Biden's press secretary TJ Ducklo said in a statement that the campaigns and the commission agreed "months ago" that the moderator would pick the topics and that the Trump campaign was lying to avoid talking about the pandemic. (What is essentially going on here is that Trump wants to talk about conspiracy theories about Biden and his son Hunter as well as some other fringe online theories and Biden wants to talk about the coronavirus.)

The first debate had many interruptions making it difficult for the audience to keep track of what was going on, and host Chris Wallace often appeared to have lost control. So this time the rules are being updated a bit. Each candidate has two minutes at the beginning of each segment to answer the moderator's first question. While one is speaking, the other's microphone is muted so that he cannot interrupt. After these first statements, they will challenge it. Will the change help? We will see.

The debate is still going on amid a pandemic. At least 11 Covid cases were linked to the first Cleveland debate; Hopefully this time that number will be zero and everyone – including the Trump family – will wear their masks.

We are in the last stretch

Thursday is only 12 days before election day and it was a chaotic year that led to it. Given the pace of the news this election cycle, the wild churn is likely to continue until and possibly after the vote.

However, one thing has remained relatively unchanged in recent months: Biden is ahead in the polls. Then again, so was Hillary Clinton in 2016. And because of the electoral college, winning by millions of votes doesn't always mean winning the White House. Overall, however, Biden's lead was quite substantial and fairly stable for most of the race.

According to a RealClearPolitics average of the polls, Biden is up more than 8 percentage points nationally. A poll of likely voters published Tuesday by the New York Times and Siena College found that Biden is 9 points ahead of Trump nationally, and that he and Biden himself in the economy where voters generally ranked Trump higher are now basically equal.

As Vox's Dylan Scott recently wrote, Biden also appears to be doing pretty well in a few major swing states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which helped steer the 2016 election in Trump's direction. According to FiveThirtyEights state polls averages, the race is very close in places where Trump would be safe bets in a better year, like Ohio, Iowa and Georgia. But, as Scott noted, none of this means that Trump can't win and things could ultimately break in his direction.

How could that happen? Well, the polls could tighten in the final weeks of the race as undecided voters decide and perhaps Republicans, skeptical of Trump, ultimately decide to stick with their party. Respondents may also miss some Trump voters, leading them to underestimate his support, as they did in the 2016 elections in critical states.

Trump seems to be at least somewhat aware that the polls aren't looking good for him and is making every possible effort to turn the tide.

Thursday's debate will likely be the candidates' last chance to assert themselves with such a huge platform and audience. The first debate was so confused, with all the crosstalk and interruptions, that it is hard to believe that many voters could have been influenced. Perhaps the trusted mute button makes this debate different.

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