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Analysis: Who will have the advantage heading into next week’s opening presidential debate?

Trump v Biden 2020
(© chrisdorney –

We weren’t even sure we were going to have actual presidential debates in 2020. Now that we are, beginning next week in Cleveland, basically, who ya got?

It’s not like either Donald Trump or Joe Biden are looked at as orators, statesmen.

Both are prone to rambling, being loose with facts, sticking a foot in their mouths.

Trump played this to his advantage in 2016, in debates with the smooth, knowledgeable, but wonkish and sometimes distant Hillary Clinton.

All Trump had to do to exceed expectations was not fall down and split his pants on national TV.

He might have met his match in that respect in Biden.

“A very key part of the Republican strategy was waiting for the debates. They thought clearly that in an unscripted environment over the period of an hour and a half that Trump could easily rattle Joe Biden. He might have a gaffe or get something wrong,” said Bob Denton, a Virginia Tech political communication professor.

The expectation game works both ways.

“If the expectations of are so low, but Biden survives and performs well, it will seem he exceeds expectations,” Denton said.

Funny how that would be, considering 2016.

You can expect Biden to try to wrap Trump up in the push from Republicans to try to rush a Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg ahead of the 2020 election.

“He can make the handling of the Supreme Court opening a referendum in the debate. He will also talk about Trump and his poor performance,” Denton said.

The lack of a live audience for the Tuesday, Sept. 28 debate in Cleveland could be an issue for Trump, who, though he’s not a polished public speaker, has a carnival huckster’s ability to get over in front of live crowds.

“Trump feeds off a live audience, and he may find that it’s very different for him. In a sterile studio environment, it might be an advantage to Biden,” Denton said.

In the end, Denton gives the pre-debate advantage to the incumbent, who he expects to punch early and often.

“For Trump, the best defense will be a very aggressive offense. He’ll be on the attack from the very first second,” said Denton. “How the media will portray that, or if people thinks he goes too far, we’ll have to see. But certainly, we’ll have a very aggressive strategy by Trump of attack, attack, attack.”

Story by Chris Graham