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Tonight’s Debate Preview: Muting Trump and Biden

Well, it’s been weird, but we’re finally here: the last presidential debate of the 2020 campaign.

Forgive me for feeling a little nostalgic.

We’ve just been through so much together. Eleven rounds of primary debates with nearly two dozen Democratic candidates; a bizarre first general election debate; a socially distanced vice-presidential debate; and a very strange pair of dueling TV town hall events.

Tonight, President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have their final opportunity to present their arguments to a large televised audience. The pressure falls heavily on Mr. Trump to change the dynamics of the race. He has been unable to secure a lead in swing-state and national polling averages for weeks, if not months.

The debate rules remain the same as in the first matchup, except for one big change: There will be muting!

Each candidate will have his microphone cut off while his rival has the floor during the initial responses to the moderator’s questions. This seems as if it could pose a particularly frustrating obstacle in the middle of a heated, high-stakes debate. Aides in both camps are anxious about whether their guy will be able to keep his cool.

Mr. Trump’s advisers have urged him to strike a less contentious tone than in the first debate, encouraging him to present an affirmative vision for a country in crisis. But the president has made it clear that he wants to talk about Mr. Biden’s son Hunter and his business dealings, after an unsubstantiated report appeared in The New York Post that was based on material provided by Mr. Trump’s allies. Aides fear that Mr. Trump’s attacks on Mr. Biden’s family will ricochet, engendering sympathy from viewers.

For Mr. Biden, the challenge will be staying calm and not getting rattled by his desire to protect his children. He’ll most likely stick with what has been working for his campaign — delivering an argument that he can help bring the country out of the pandemic and restore a sense of civility to our fractured politics.

Kristen Welker of NBC News will moderate the debate, which will take place in Nashville. It will begin at 9 p.m. Eastern time and run for 90 minutes. The announced topics are the coronavirus, “American families,” race in the United States, climate change, national security and leadership.

As usual, we’ll be analyzing and fact-checking all the action in our live chat, which is starting right now. (I’m hosting our valiant team of chatters.) You can watch the livestream in our chat, or tune in on any major TV network.

Please join us! And I’ll see you back here tomorrow morning with our final debate recap edition of On Politics.


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