An audience of close to 100 million is expected to watch Tuesday night's opening-round presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Polls indicate that only a small fraction of them haven't already made up their minds.
What will draw the virtual crowd is the first face-to-face ultimate fighting verbal combat between a president who observes few bounds — including of fact, reality and taste — when on the attack, and a Democratic foe whose loathing of Trump will put to the test his geniality, not to mention his composure and past propensity for gaffes.
How low could it go? Trump on Monday again demanded that Biden undergo a pre-debate drug test, insinuating with no evidence that the Democrat could be using a performance-enhancing drug. Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, retorted: "If the president thinks his best case is made in urine, he can have at it. We’d expect nothing less from Donald Trump, who pissed away the chance to protect the lives of 200K Americans when he didn't make a plan to stop COVID-19."
Though their fight has been volatile and polarizing, their strength with the voters has been relatively stable. Biden maintains a significant polling lead, yet not an insurmountable one.
The Biden campaign has downplayed the night’s importance, believing that the pandemic and the battered economy will outweigh any potential debate stage mishap, writes The Associated Press. The Trump campaign has played up the magnitude of the duel as the president's chance to damage Biden and recast the race.
Because of social distancing, barely 100 people are expected to attend in person at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Chris Wallace of Fox News is the lone moderator for the 90-minute event that kicks off at 9 p.m.
Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez previews the debate with four things to watch for, including surprise questions from Wallace not on his original list of six, which were: the Supreme Court, the candidates' respective records, the coronavirus, the economy, election integrity and issues of race and violence. Wallace also said the topics could be "subject to possible changes" because of news developments, which could include Sunday's New York Times report on Trump's serial zeroing-out or pittance $750 payments of his federal income tax bills.
Janison: Demolition derby
Some viewers will watch the debate as they would a NASCAR race, rooting for a favorite driver, but with an eye toward crashes and crackups, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
The lack of a big studio audience could give the show less of a cage-match atmosphere than it otherwise might have had. Still, the candidates' stylistic contrasts will be on clear display.
The revived questions about Trump's taxes present unpalatable choices: Does Trump underpay what he owes the IRS to avoid sharing the massive cost of his own government with the "little people"? Or do his debts perhaps give him more incentive for self-dealing on the job?
Biden is expected to craft the tax dance as Trumpian corruption. Expect Trump to deny the obvious, blame Democrats, keep up the stonewalling and deflection on this subject, as well as accuse Biden and his son Hunter of dirty deals.
Calling unfavorable reporting "fake news" is a trademark Trump tic, but he didn't deny the authenticity of the tax documents that The New York Times got its hands on.
He complained in a tweet about "illegally obtained information" and mounted a so-what defense, pointing to "many millions of dollars in taxes paid" — presumably meaning other categories, like property and payroll taxes — and that he "was entitled, like everyone else, to depreciation & tax credits." He ignored reporters calling after him Monday afternoon at a Rose Garden event where he took no questions.
The more profound issue for the national interest was not that he paid far less in federal income tax than ordinary working stiffs. It's the staggering debt he has racked up because of money-losing businesses, including more than $300 million in loans that will come due in the next four years.
Ethics experts told The Associated Press that financial obligation raises national security concerns the president could be manipulated to sway U.S. policy by organizations or individuals to which he’s indebted. "From a national security perspective, that’s just an outrageous vulnerability," Larry Pfeiffer, who previously served as chief of staff at the CIA, told The Washington Post.
The revelations add to long-standing suspicions about Trump’s approach to foreign policy and seeming deference to authoritarian leaders of countries where he has either pursued real estate projects or could do so upon leaving office, including Russia, Turkey and the Philippines.
A second installment Monday night of Times' revelations from Trump's tax data describes how Trump cashed in on the fictions of his business acumen through "The Apprentice." There were product endorsements, licensing deals with hotel builders of sometimes murky backgrounds and get-rich-quick scams sold to the public.
Trump batting .000 in vote fraud claims
A Washington Post review of nearly 90 state and federal lawsuits found that judges have been broadly skeptical when Republicans use claims of voter fraud to argue against efforts by Democrats and voting rights advocates to make balloting by mail easier.
In no case did a judge back Trump’s view — refuted by experts — that fraud is a problem significant enough to sway a presidential election. Many important rules for voting remain in flux after hundreds of cases were filed in more than 44 states.
GOP lawyers have scored several defensive wins related to mail ballots, such as maintaining North Carolina’s signature-witness requirement and keeping in place limitations on third parties collecting and returning ballots or applications in Florida, Minnesota and Michigan.
Meanwhile, an FBI notice Monday warned the public to be wary of false claims of hacked voter information, saying they are likely intended to cast doubt on the legitimacy of U.S. elections.
Parscale's wife shows signs of abuse
The wife of former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale showed signs of physical abuse when Fort Lauderdale police met her outside the house where her husband was holed up with guns, prompting her to fear that he was suicidal, authorities said.
Officers tackled him on Sunday afternoon when he came out — holding a beer but no weapon — and didn't immediately comply with a command to get on the ground. (See the bodycam video.) Parscale was taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation under Florida's law for involuntary mental illness commitment.
Officer Timothy Skaggs noted in his report that he saw several bruises on Candice Parscale's arm. She said she suffered those "a few days ago during a physical altercation with Bradley, which she did not report," according to Skaggs. She also said Parscale had been stressed out for two weeks, drinking and threatening to shoot himself. No charges were immediately filed, but authorities planned to interview her.
Police confiscated 10 guns from the home. Candice said she fled when he loaded a round into a pistol.
Parscale was demoted as campaign manager in July but remained a digital director for Trump's reelection effort. When news first broke that he was taken into custody Sunday night, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh blamed political foes. "The disgusting, personal attacks from Democrats and disgruntled RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] have gone too far, and they should be ashamed of themselves for what they’ve done to this man and his family," Murtaugh said.
Trump's feuding COVID docs draw blood
The animosity between the long-serving infectious disease pros on the Trump administration's coronavirus task force and the president's new favorite, Dr. Scott Atlas, has gone public.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, was overheard by an NBC News staffer on a commercial flight while deriding Atlas in a phone call: "Everything he says is false," Redfield told a colleague. He said Atlas was arming Trump with misleading information on such issues as the effectiveness of masks, whether young people are susceptible to the virus and the potential benefits of herd immunity.
Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no background in infectious diseases or public health, defended himself in a Fox News interview, citing a "15-year career in public policy, working on health care policy and integrating my medical knowledge in policy."
Atlas continued: "I am here because I understand how to translate complex medical science into plain English for the president of the United States and for everyone else in the White House, and derive appropriate public policy from that information."
Veep, starring Ivanka Trump?
Trump seriously explored naming his daughter Ivanka as his vice-presidential running mate in 2016, pushing his team to poll the idea twice to see how it would go over with voters, according to new book by Rick Gates, who was deputy campaign manager that year.
"She’s bright, she’s smart, she’s beautiful, and the people would love her!" Gates quotes Trump as saying. It was Ivanka who finally ended the conversation, Gates writes, going to her father to tell him it wasn’t a good idea.
Gates, who remains a fan of Trump, pleaded guilty in 2018 to charges of conspiracy and lying to federal investigators in connection with lobbying work he did with former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in Ukraine before joining Trump’s team. Sentenced to 45 days in prison, he served time on weekends.
Gates said he would "absolutely" take a pardon if Trump offered him one.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Biden's lead among likely voters in Pennsylvania is 9 points, one of his biggest of the campaign, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll. Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court hasn't helped the president's polling, and more voters want Biden to pick the next justice. Trump has virtually no path to reelection without the Keystone State's 20 electoral votes.
- A new Washington Post/ABC News poll also finds Biden on top by 9 points in Pennsylvania.
- Also not working for Trump so far is his effort to frighten "suburban housewives" into thinking that a Biden win would threaten their neighborhoods. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found suburban women trust Biden over Trump on handling crime by 61% to 37%.
- Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden's running mate, plans to put her campaigning on pause and take her seat on the Judiciary Committee for Barrett's confirmation hearing. Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) aims to start on Oct. 12.
- A Politico/Morning Consult poll found that only 20% of voters expect to find out on election night who won the election, and 21% believe the results will take more than a week. A 63% majority said they were either very or somewhat concerned that Trump would prematurely declare victory; one-third expressed the same concerns about Biden.
- For three weeks in August, as election officials across the country were preparing to send out mail-in ballots to tens of millions of voters, the U.S. Postal Service stopped fully updating a national change-of-address system that most states use to keep their voter rolls current, Time magazine reported. Internal USPS emails describe the source of the problem only as an unexplained "error."
- The 2016 Trump campaign's digital operations masterminded by Parscale put the names of 3.5 million Black Americans in a category dubbed "deterrence" that aimed to push them to abstain from voting, according to data obtained by Britain's Channel 4. The channel's journalists said they got hold of a file used four years ago of almost 200 million U.S. voters. Parscale has previously denied such targeting. A team from the British firm Cambridge Analytica was involved in the operations.