We've made it to the last big moment of the 2020 election campaign — the second and final presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden
. On Thursday night, millions of viewers will tune in to the debate in Nashville, Tennessee, to see if partially muting the mics can produce a more civil exchange than their last brawl in Cleveland, Ohio.
Here's what each candidate should do to turn the debate his way.
Candidates are often told by their strategists: "Be yourself." That would be terrible advice for Trump. His belligerent first debate performance was one of the most flagrant displays of presidential misbehavior in modern US history. Since then, he has battled Covid-19 and turned the political thermostat even higher with wild stunts and searing rhetoric. His hardline stands, rule breaking and trashing of political correctness explain why he's widely popular with his party's base -- but also why he's alienated the moderate voters he needs to win a second term.
To widen his appeal, Trump needs to ditch tantrums and show voters he understands that the US is on the cusp of painful months in the pandemic. That might involve taking mitigation measures like masks and social distancing seriously, and not overpromising on the pace at which a vaccine will arrive. To win back crucial suburban voters, he ought to show some empathy with their fear and loss -- both emotional and economic -- and convince the country that he can plot a way out of the worst domestic crisis since World War II. But all this would require the President to admit he could have done better in combating the pandemic to begin with.
Biden needs to adopt a political version of the Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm." The Democratic nominee is leading the race, and if he can leave Nashville without that changing, he can claim a win however pundits score the clash.
The former vice president's biggest challenge will likely be not lashing out at Trump over the President's personal attacks against Biden's son Hunter. Biden's response in the first debate — that he loved his son and many American families knew the pain of substance abuse — was a strong moment. Biden also did well when he ignored Trump's goading and spoke directly to the American people.
He could do a better job this time around in using Trump's onstage meltdowns as a metaphor for the chaos and self-obsession in the White House. With the pandemic fast worsening, Biden will try to focus the debate on Trump's mismanagement and downplaying of the crisis. Above all, he wants to leave Americans with a vision of calm, empathy and leadership to imagine in the Oval Office.
What you'd ask
We asked you what you'd like to ask Biden and Trump on Thursday's debate stage. Thanks for answering thoughtfully -- here is a selection of reader responses.
US handling of the coronavirus pandemic was top of mind for many -- Karin from Germany spoke for several readers when she asked: "The people can read and see every day how the positive coronavirus cases and deaths are rising. By slamming scientists, soldiers and governors, how does [Trump] think that this behavior helps him?"
Peter wanted to hear about any progress made on Trump's 2016 campaign promises: "What about the wall? What about Trump's promise that every child has a right to an education and can go to whatever school they choose?"
Yvette, like many, wondered about the future of American democracy. Referencing the President's resistance to committing to a peaceful transfer of power, she asked if Trump thought the whole system needed an overhaul: "If re-elected, do you want to change American democracy?"
Charles in Santa Barbara sought to help the two candidates find some common ground. "I would ask both the candidates what policy positions of the other have they found to be valuable and might continue," he said, adding: "This might be a question more for Biden concerning economic successes (such as they were pre-Covid) of the Trump administration that proved to be good governing."
Peter from Botswana wanted both candidates to describe whether and how the US needs to change its stance on climate change.
And Gavin in the UK went philosophical. "How would each candidate define the value of each human life?" he asked. "This is not an abortion question but one that relates to those who survive birth, social inequality and disability -- even the disability of meritocracy and inherited wealth?"
'The US has gone too far'
The US has "gone too far" in designating more Chinese media companies as foreign missions, says the editor of the state-run tabloid Global Times Hu Xijin. On Wednesday the US said it would designate six China-based media companies as foreign missions due to their government ties: Yicai Global, Jiefang Daily, Xinmin Evening News, Social Sciences in China Press, Beijing Review and Economic Daily. Hu tweeted in response
, "The US has gone too far. The move will further poison the working environment of media outlets in each other's country. As long as Chinese media outlets suffer actual harm, Beijing will definitely retaliate."
Barack Obama on Wednesday brutally knocked Trump while campaigning for Biden in Philadelphia. "I did hope for the sake of the country that (Trump) might show some interest in taking the job seriously. But it hasn't happened. He hasn't shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself and his friends, or treating the presidency like a reality show that he can use to get attention," the former president told a "drive-in" audience.
Obama blasted Trump's temperament and record, noting, "Tweeting at the television doesn't fix things." Addressing recent New York Times reporting
that Trump has a Chinese bank account, he joked, "Listen, can you imagine if I had had a secret Chinese bank account when I was running for reelection?" "They would have called me Beijing Barry," he added.
Perhaps most crucially for Americans slogging through a pandemic, economic crisis, racial reckoning and warming climate, he promised listeners they would simply feel "less exhausted" by a Biden presidency. "With Joe and Kamala at the helm, you're not going to have to think about the crazy things they said every day. And that's worth a lot. You're not going to have to argue about them every day," he said, to scattered honks. "It just won't be so exhausting."