Does the president dial back his aggression? How will Joe Biden lay out his closing argument? Here’s what we’ll be looking for as the candidates face off in Nashville on Thursday night.
By Adam Nagourney
[Follow our live updates on the debate and the 2020 election.]
President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. will meet on Thursday for their second and final presidential debate.
Kristen Welker of NBC News will moderate the debate, which will take place in Nashville. It will begin at 9 p.m. Eastern and run for 90 minutes. The announced topics include fighting the coronavirus, American families, race in the United States, climate change, national security and leadership.
The New York Times will cover the event live, with real-time analysis from teams of reporters, on nytimes.com.
The debate will be televised on channels including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, C-SPAN, PBS, Fox News and MSNBC. Many news outlets, including ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox News and C-SPAN, will stream the debate on YouTube.
The big questions
The first question about Thursday’s debate: Will it really matter? At this point, haven’t most voters made up their minds? Many have already voted. And is there anything else to say?
The answer is that it certainly may matter. There are always a few voters left who have not decided whom to support. And there are those who may need an extra last-minute nudge to turn out.
Barring some cataclysmic event in the next two weeks, it is the last moment in the race guaranteed to draw a huge viewership, and it will be the final time Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are scheduled to share a stage.
And it is particularly important for Mr. Trump, who is trailing in most national and battleground state polls and whose performance at the first debate appeared to hurt his standing. The president pulled out of what was supposed to be a second debate after the Commission on Presidential Debates decided that the forum should be held virtually in light of Mr. Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis.
Here’s what we’ll be watching for when the candidates face off in Nashville.
Does Trump dial it back?
This may be the most intriguing question of the night. Will we see a reprise of the hectoring, interrupting president who frequently talked over the moderator, Chris Wallace, and Mr. Biden? Few people thought that did him much good. And it may be more difficult this time: Microphones will be muted during portions of the debate to prevent such disruptions.
“In the best of all words, he would watch the Pence-Harris debate three times and realize this isn’t 2016 and Biden is not Hillary Clinton,” said Newt Gingrich, the Republican former House speaker. “He has to move toward a calmer, more issue-oriented, less personality-driven debate. He has the perfect model with the vice president.”
But time is running out. At this point, Mr. Trump needs to try to accomplish what he has been unable to do so far: Give voters who are on the fence a reason not to support Mr. Biden.
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