Trump, Biden head into first presidential debate today
CLEVELAND, Sept 29: There'll be no handshake, but venom to spare when President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden meet in Cleveland on Tuesday for the first of three televised debates that could shake up an already volatile race for the White House.
Covid-19 restrictions will give the debate moderated by Fox News star Chris Wallace a streamlined look with a smaller audience. Naturally, there won't be the once standard -- even if occasionally forced -- show of goodwill in shaking hands as the rivals go on stage.
What the 90-minute clash will have is a chance for Americans finally to see Trump, 74, and Biden, 77, go head to head.
With Trump claiming Biden is virtually brain dead -- "Biden doesn't know he's alive" -- and Biden branding the president "a toxic presence," it won't be for the faint hearted.
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, though, comes hoping to press his advantage.
And he arrives aided by The New York Times' publication of a report purporting to reveal the contents of Trump's deeply secret tax returns -- finding that the self-proclaimed billionaire and champion of the working class avoids paying almost all federal income taxes.
Trump, who fancies his skills as a verbal pugilist, is expected to hit hard and low.
For months he has painted Biden as senile. As the debate approached he increasingly focused on his claim that Biden takes performance enhancing drugs.
Biden has laughed off the suggestion, but Trump, a past master at getting slurs to stick to his opponents, is doubling down.
"Joe Biden just announced that he will not agree to a Drug Test. Gee, I wonder why?" Trump tweeted Monday.
Biden's deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield responded in kind, saying that if Trump wants the debate to be conducted through "urine" samples, "he can."
Trump, arguably, has little to lose. His hardcore support is already baked in and Americans are by now almost incapable of feeling shocked by his convention-wrecking style.
He also goes to Cleveland with what he hopes will be his own silver bullet -- the nomination of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. -AFP