If this is the most important election in decades, this is its most important moment. Thus far, this campaign has been a referendum on Trump; Tuesday’s debate will be one on Biden. Its outcome depends on which Biden shows up.
Like all races with a president seeking re-election, this one has centered on the incumbent. Thanks to a hostile media and Trump’s aggressive use of social media, America has had plenty of material for judgement. Topping it off, 2020 has been an acutely tumultuous year: Beginning with an impeachment trial and now a contentious Supreme Court vacancy — with a pandemic, a recession, and nationwide violence in between.
While violence and the vacancy have taken some recent focus off Trump, the campaign’s basic contour has remained a race about him. That will change next Tuesday with the first of three presidential debates. For ninety minutes, America’s focus will be on Joe Biden’s performance in Cleveland.
In conventional campaigns, debates are challengers’ opportunities to elevate themselves to the level of their incumbent opponent. In this most unconventional of campaigns, it presents Biden more risk than opportunity.
Biden has not wanted this focus; through his “virtual campaign,” he has worked hard to avoid it at all costs. Nor has Biden needed it; he has held a consistent lead and used a long political résumé to supplant current scrutiny. However now, whether wanted or needed, he will have it. The question is: Which Biden will get this scrutiny?
Tuesday’s Biden could be the professional politician. This Biden has had two previous presidential runs, two terms as Vice President, and six terms as Senator. He has been in countless public settings, to the point they are second nature. …
… However, the Biden of 2020 has not been the Biden of 2012.