Trump and Biden go head-to-head in first of three presidential face-offs

Head to head: Joe Biden and US President Donald Trump.
Head to head: Joe Biden and US President Donald Trump. AFP/Archivos

Covid-related health restrictions mean there'll be no handshake, no theatrical goodwill, at the start of this evening's debate. Given some of the things the contenders have been saying about one another, that may be just as well.


The rhetorical relationship between these two men is anything but gentle.

Trump, who is 74-years-old, has described his opponent as brain dead . . . "Biden doesn't know he's alive".

Biden, who is 77, has branded the president "a toxic presence".

Trump has his back to the wall

Significantly behind in the polls, Trump is in fighting mode, embarking on an endurance-testing schedule of rallies in key battlegrounds several times a week.

Biden comes to this debate in Cleveland hoping to press his advantage.

And he arrives aided by The New York Times' publication of a report which claims to reveal the contents of Trump's deeply secret tax returns -- finding that the self-proclaimed billionaire and champion of the working class has consistently avoided paying federal income tax.

A gift to the ultra-conservatives

Trump, according to some analysts, has little to lose. His hardcore support is already assured and moderate Americans are by now almost incapable of feeling shocked by his convention-wrecking style.

He arrives in Cleveland in the wake of a master stroke -- the nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace recently-deceased liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the nine-judge Supreme Court.

If conservative Catholic Barrett is quickly confirmed, as the Republican-led Senate expects, Trump will have managed to tilt the highest court firmly to the right for years to come.

Democrats are crying foul over the rushed timing of Barrett's nomination on the eve of the election, but Trump expects the power-play to attract the votes of many religious conservatives.

Biden needs to keep his cool

The incumbent is sure to go heavy on claims that Biden's son was involved in corruption in Ukraine. Last year Trump was impeached for using the power of his office to pressure the Ukrainian government into publicly backing that theory.

Biden, as frontrunner, wants to stay steady, but he has a reputation for losing his cool when challenged in public.

"I hope I don't get baited into a brawl with this guy, because that's the only place he's comfortable," he said.

Biden will instead keep his focus on the coronavirus pandemic, which polls show about two thirds of Americans believe Trump handled badly.

Biden will also shoot back at the filling of the Supreme Court seat, saying that Trump's plan is for the court to restrict abortion and reverse the Obamacare health program -- two areas that could worry voters among the undecided poor.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning