Viewing guide: What to know ahead of the first presidential debate

Viewing guide: How to watch the first presidential debate
Posted at 9:52 PM, Sep 25, 2020

The homestretch of the 2020 presidential campaign culminates on Tuesday as President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden meet for the first of three presidential debates.

Tuesday’s debate will air live on this network at 9 p.m. ET from Cleveland.

Here is what you need to know about Tuesday's showdown.

The candidates

Democratic Party nominee Biden and Republican nominee Trump were the only two candidates invited to Tuesday’s debate based on polling. In order to be invited, a candidate must poll at 15 percent or above in a series of national polls to qualify.

An aggregate of national polls by Real Clear Politics has Biden leading the popular vote by a 50-43 margin. But as Hillary Clinton learned in 2016, winning the popular vote does not mean victory.

The moderator

Fox News’ Chris Wallace will moderate a presidential debate for the second straight election cycle. Wallace was widely praised for his moderation of the 2016 debate between Clinton and Trump.

While Fox News is considered by many to be right-leaning, Wallace is called one of the networks more independent anchors. Before joining Fox News, he was a reporter for ABC News, and the Washington Bureau Chief of NBC News.

While Wallace did not moderate a Democratic Party debate, he is quite familiar with Trump. During the summer, Wallace held wide-ranging interview with Trump, which took Trump to task for the federal government’s response to the coronavirus.

While this is the first time Wallace has moderated a debate involving Biden, he has moderated a debate involving Trump four prior times.

Wallace moderated three GOP debates for Fox News during the 2016 primary season. During one of the debates, Wallace chided Marco Rubio and Trump stating, “Gentlemen, you’re going to have to do better than this.”

The format

The debate will be broken into six, 15-minute segments.

Those segments include:

  • The Trump and Biden Record
  • The Supreme Court
  • COVID-19
  • The Economy
  • Race and Violence in our Cities
  • The Integrity of the Election

While the exact times candidates will be allowed to speak have not been released, during the last debate Wallace moderated, candidates had two minutes to answer each question, with remaining time to go into a deeper discussion on the topic

Prepping for the debate

While Trump has kept a busy public schedule in the week leading up to the debate, Biden has cut back on appearances to focus on debate prep.

Trump had wanted the first debate to be held earlier as voters in a small number of states have started casting ballots.

Unrest in US cities

One of the six topics listed is on race and violence in US cities. The topic will be discussed just days after a Kentucky grand jury announced that two officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor in Kentucky would not be charged.

The issue of race and unrest has been one the two candidates are deeply divided on. While both candidates have said they oppose defunding police departments, Trump has frequently mischaracterized Biden’s position on policing, claiming that Biden supports defunding police departments.

Meanwhile, Biden has frequently accused Trump of inciting violence and that Trump’s rhetoric has increased tensions.

The Supreme Court

In 2016, it was a certainty the next president would have to fill at least one Supreme Court vacancy. As Trump is about to likely fill his third open seat on the court, what happens in 2021 and beyond is unclear.

Democrats have suggested that they would push to expand the size of the Supreme Court if they control the Senate and White House. Biden has not said whether he would go allow with that plan.

Assuming Trump’s third nominee is confirmed, the Supreme Court will give conservatives a distinct advantage.

The oldest member of the Supreme Court, 82-year-old Stephen Breyer, is a Clinton appointee. The next oldest justice, George H.W. Bush appointee Clarence Thomas, is a whole decade younger.


Likely no issue has shaped the 2020 election more than the coronavirus. With more than 200,000 coronavirus-related fatalities, an unemployment rate that has doubled since March, and the US deficit jumping to near-record levels, the virus has impacted everyday life for virtually all Americans.

How the country responds to the virus between now and Inauguration Day could change, however. Will a vaccine be ready by then? Will Americans trust that the vaccine is safe and effective? And what if a vaccine takes longer than expected and/or is not effective as hoped?