Thoughts On Tomorrow’s Debate

“I don’t make jokes, I watch the government and report the facts.” -Will Rogers

Get your popcorn ready, as tomorrow’s debate is the earliest in election cycle history and it is also the first time in history that neither debater is officially their party’s candidate (the Republican Convention is July 15-18 and the Democratic Convention is August 19-22). Not to mention this debate will feature a combined age of 159 (Trump is 78 and Biden is 81), the highest ever.

We won’t pretend to have any special insight into what will happen, but we do know this won’t be your garden variety presidential debate. Who could ever forget four years ago when then President Trump was constantly jumping in while candidate Biden was speaking, leading to the now famous quote, “Will you shut up, man?!” Could it be more memorable than that? It just might be.

Former President Trump said he’d debate ‘any time and anywhere’ so President Biden and his team set some interesting ground rules. Tomorrow night’s event will be 90 minutes and broadcast from CNN in Atlanta with no crowd. There will be no opening statements, no prepared notes, and only two short breaks (gotta get some commercials in there). Additionally, when a candidate isn’t speaking, his mike will be muted. I’m not 100% sure here, but this is likely the first time in history that has happened.

Of course, the stakes are quite high for President Biden, as concerns about his age has even his most staunch supporters worried he could make a serious gaffe. He did well at the State of the Union in March (with a big polling pop after to boot), but recent videos (whether accurate or not) are adding to overall concerns. The flipside is should he have a showing like March, a bump in his numbers is likely.

On the other side, former President Trump is no spring chicken either and has also had questions about verbal gaffes. The former president hasn’t been on the campaign trail quite as much lately, due to being in a court room in New York City, but that may have been even better than campaigning. Since the trial’s conclusion, the Trump campaign has had a tremendous fundraising boost and closed a substantial fundraising gap.

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It is said that nearly 20% of Americans are still undecided (I personally doubt this number), so as always Trump’s temperament and attitude could sway voters in either direction. Then again, if you told me you didn’t already have an opinion of Trump and his temperament at this point, I’m not sure I would believe you.

How much will tomorrow matter? When they met four years ago 73 million people watched and I’d be willing to bet more tune in this time. In fact, this debate could even top the record of the 84 million viewers who tuned in to watch then candidate Trump debate Hillary Clinton. The truth is presidential debates historically haven’t had much of an impact on elections with a few exceptions, like 1980 and Ronald Reagan’s famous, “There you go again.” But this remains a very close race and any meaningful mistake on either side (or major soundbite) could make a difference.

Who knows what the mistake will be, in a debate or on the campaign trail, that may doom a candidate? Remember Howard Dean’s awkward squawk from the primaries back in 2004? No one could take him seriously after that and it hammers home how one small mistake can cause a lot of damage. Take a listen for a laugh and a trip down memory lane.

Thanks to Libby Cantrill, Head of US Policy at PIMCO, as her recent note was the basis for much of today’s blog. If you aren’t following Libby then you are missing out on some of the very best policy/election insights out there. Also, thanks to Barry Gilbert on our team for adding some nice color to this.

Lastly, as of now there’s another debate scheduled for September 10, but that feels like a lifetime away. For more real-time thoughts on the bull market and economy, here’s a fun look at how the Carson Investment Research team sees things. It’s Sonu and myself live from our Partner Summit last month with our own version of the State of the Union. I was Uncle Sam and Sonu was George Washington, so you know this was anything but boring!

 

For more content by Ryan Detrick, Chief Market Strategist click here.

 

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