Thursday October 22, 2020
From Roland Peters
It is not long before the US presidential election. Before the final television duel, Trump’s team complained bitterly: The organizers were against them. They don’t want to talk about many topics. But Trump needs the attention.
When the Democrats were still about who should be the challenger to US President Donald Trump on November 3rd, there were great doubts about Joe Biden’s steadfastness. Who could do better against him in the TV duels? Bernie Sanders? Elizabeth Warren? Pete Buttigieg? After all, Biden sometimes seemed strangely absent and kept dropping out. Against such a TV experienced Trump, so the concern, Biden would look old in the truest sense of the word. The Democrats would reduce their chance of victory.
The opposite has happened. After Trump behaved extremely aggressively in the first TV duel at the end of September and repeatedly slapped both Biden and the moderator, the president’s polls have deteriorated significantly. A short time later, his Covid disease became known, which may also have an effect. Biden is around 10 percentage points ahead of Trump. What the Democrats are concerned about: Even after Hillary Clinton’s first TV debate against Trump in 2016, her lead over Trump had grown from 2 to 6 points. The end is known.
Now the originally third and final TV duel is before the election: On Thursday evening local time – Friday morning from 3 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. German time – the competitors in Nashville, Tennessee, step on the same stage. The organizers changed the rules beforehand, mainly to get Trump somewhat under control. In one and a half hours, six topics are to be discussed for a quarter of an hour each. At the beginning of each block, both candidates are given two minutes to explain their position. Meanwhile, the other’s microphone is turned off.
Trump’s campaign team calls this change “partisan”. However, after a few days of complaints and doubt, it announced that the President would attend anyway. At the same time, Trump complained on Tuesday evening during an election campaign appearance in the important state of Pennsylvania, “Nobody wants me”. “If we hadn’t been hit by the plague,” he wouldn’t have needed to appear in the election campaign: “We’d already won.” Despite all the criticism, Trump apparently cannot do without the attention of the last TV duel. Because the debates are seen all over the country.
Trump will have come up with something to bypass the restriction. Staying in your corner, that doesn’t sound like the showman. He could just speak loud enough, or walk over to Biden (as he did in a debate with Clinton), or anything else to get the attention of the director, NBC News host Kristen Welker, and the audience. Who should stop him? If it should nevertheless be more or less regulated, the candidates want to discuss the following topics: the corona crisis, families, racism, climate change, national security and leadership.
But Trump doesn’t even want to talk about these issues, as his campaign manager Bill Stepien complained, but just as previously agreed about foreign policy. After all, everything else had already been discussed in detail in the first debate, which Trump “won against moderators Chris Wallace and Joe Biden,” he wrote in a two-page letter to the independent organizers. That’s not true, at the end of September the two talked about corona and violence on the streets, among other things, but not about the rest. Stepien asked to reconsider the decision, but it stands. The rest of the letter consisted of a series of allegations against the organizers, they acted partisanly and in favor of Biden’s campaign team.
Foreign policy, Trump could actually look a little better there than on the other topics, but there may be one thing above all in the interest of the president: to use any reason, no matter how small, to point out the emails from Biden’s son Hunter. From his point of view, they prove that his competitor is corrupt. However, it is unclear exactly what this corruption is supposed to consist of. But this tactic was already successful in 2016: With a revelation in the last few meters, turn the tide and take the win. Back then, it was about Hillary Clinton’s emails. Even the FBI got involved just before the election date.
Not at all disconnected
Both the election campaign at the time and the current one show that opinions about Trump are not completely disconnected from his behavior, as he has been claiming for years. Perhaps it was this renewed insight that prompted the president’s election campaign team to convert the second of three planned TV duels into a different format, in which Biden was not even present. But even with questions from the guests, Trump was Trump; He is unlikely to have convinced new swap voters – of which there are only a few anyway.
Trump is an expert in using the medium of television for himself. But apparently there are many registered voters who disagree with his style of discussion with political opponents. There is hardly any other way of interpreting the parallel developments in the survey results. Only a minority of Americans follow day-to-day political affairs in detail: a maximum of one in five, a study found at the beginning of the year. The rest of them are only slightly or not at all interested in what and how they argue day in and day out.
The first duel against Biden, whereupon Trump experienced a collapse in his polls, as in 2016, was seen by 73 million Americans – and only on television. There are no reliable figures for laptops, cell phones and other platforms. In the US, television is slowly but surely losing importance as a news source: In August 2018, less than 50 percent of those surveyed at Pew Research said that they often use TV for information. Social media (20 percent) and websites (33) were together above this. So it is quite possible that a few million more people saw the first debate.
All of this suggests that what matters more to voters than they think is how the presidential candidates behave in the debates and what topics are being discussed. Why else would Trump’s campaign team suddenly want to leave out certain topics? Dozens of millions more get involved in TV duels than in day-to-day political business. In the coming night, the voters will once again be shown who they actually want to vote for. And who is the alternative.