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Inside Sources: What to expect at first presidential debate

FILE: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden joined by his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at the Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Del., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

SALT LAKE CITY — In an unprecedented year with a president like no other in US history, what can viewers expect during the first presidential debate?

President Donald Trump speaks to the press on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday before traveling to North Carolina and Florida. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Jason Perry, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, joins Boyd Matheson, opinion editor at Deseret News, on Inside Sources to discuss the first presidential debate Tuesday between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden in Cleveland, Ohio.

Moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News has selected the topics for the debate (not necessarily in this order):

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

Avoid the gaffe

“What do you expect to see in this first debate?” Boyd asked Perry.

“This debate, particularly this first one, no one wants to have a big gaffe. They both need to perform very well because this sets the stage for all the next debates that are coming up,” Perry said.

“No one wants to have the gaffe moment because that can define your campaign and sink it,” Boyd said. “And sometimes we have seen candidates overcompensate for that and come out so flat. Ronald Reagan came out very flat in the first debate. Mitt Romney didn’t have a great first debate, had a great second debate . . . Is there a risk of playing it too safe, trying to play gaffe-free? Will that prevent you from actually winning?”

“Well, it actually can,” Perry said. He predicted during the first debate that Trump and Biden will play it safe — like a warm-up round — and go after each other, not so much on policy, but on character, approach and style. 

But Perry anticipates that during the second and third debates both candidates will become more aggressive, especially if either one has to make up for a previous lackluster performance.

Perry likened this election to a scale with heavy weights on both the right and left sides. It is the undecided middle voter who will tip the scale left or right and decide the outcome, he said.

Supreme Court

Does dragging out the replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18, help Trump or Biden more? Boyd asked.

“Dragging it out helps Joe Biden,” Perry said. “In 2016, the Supreme Court picks were one of the highest issues on the list for voters in Utah at the time. Across the country, it was a top five [issue] also.”

The recent opening on the Supreme Court will be one of the biggest talking points during the debates and in the campaigns, Perry predicted.

What would you ask the candidates?

Boyd asked listeners what questions they would ask during the debate.

Here are two of his favorites:

“How will your vision for this country help it overcome its current state?”

“How will your opponent’s plan or vision harm Americans?” 

Boyd asked Perry if he were moderating the debate, what question would he ask.

“What is the one policy that you did as an elected official that you’d like to redo or revisit?” 

Perry explained that he would ask that because it’s both about the past and the future.

Boyd pointed out that it’s also about a leader’s ability to learn because that’s what the American people want.

“Can you learn, can you transform, can you move forward because if they’re stuck or so entrenched that they’re never wrong, always right, that’s not someone who can really lead you to what is next,” Boyd said.

Republican Vice President Mike Pence and Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris will square off for the only vice presidential debate on Oct. 7 at University of Utah’s Kingsbury Hall.

Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 11:00 a.m to 12:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.