WASHINGTON: US President
and his Democratic challenger
square off for their first Presidential debate on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning 6.30am IST) with the shadow of corruption and
evasion hanging heavily over the incumbent, amid widespread social and racial unrest in times of a pandemic.
Exposes over the weekend showing Trump paid as little as $750 in annual taxes in 2016 and 2017 and none at all in ten of previous 15 years has put his campaign on the defensive even as the Biden camp seeks to drive home the message that the Trump and his Presidency is a confederacy of corrupt plutocrats out to enrich themselves.
Framing their political fight as a Scranton vs Park Street issue, the Biden campaign is presenting the Democratic candidate as a working-class icon from a modest background in contrast to a privileged New Yorker who is out of touch with the poor.
Pre-debate surveys show that 86 per cent of voters have already made up their mind about who they will vote for on November 3 and the debate performance won’t make much of a difference to their voting preference. That still leaves a significant 14 per cent who could make the difference between victory and defeat – provided Trump Republicans allow the counting process to proceed unhindered.
As things stand, Trump’s cohorts are hiring scores of lawyers to litigate counting in various swing states, claiming faulty balloting and corrupt practices in an effort to gridlock the election where the President has fallen way behind in polls. One poll in Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground state that yields 20 electoral votes in the winner-takes-all system, showed Biden ahead by nine points.
By litigating the count, Trump surrogates appear to be planning to use the state legislatures they control and a ideologically rigged judiciary at the regional and federal level to overturn popular will.
Tuesday’s debate at the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio – another battleground state – will be a socially distanced affair before a small Covid-tested audience of about 70 and the two candidates not even shaking hands. Lasting 90 minutes without any commercial breaks, and moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, the debate will cover areas such as “The Trump and Biden Records,” “The Supreme Court,” “Covid-19,” “The Economy,” “Race and Violence in our Cities” and “The Integrity of the Election,” according to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which hosts the event.
Trump, who has repeatedly cast Biden as old and senile and made wild charges suggesting he take performance enhancing drugs, is expected to go for the jugular and launch personal attacks on a rival who clearly has greater grasp on policy despite his reputation for verbal gaffes. But as the incumbent, Trump is vulnerable on several flanks – from his handing of the pandemic to stoking racial tension to corruption of the kind that has seldom touched the White House in 244 years.
The disclosures that Trump is actually a failed businessman who is not only broke but in deep debt, and that he ran for president in 2016 essentially as a means of ramping up his brand to come out of a financial hole, coursed through the political sphere, generating anger among moderates and liberals – and a defensive “nothing new here” among Trump supporters. Thousands of workaday people used the hashtag #IPaidMoreTaxesThanDonaldTrump hashtag to show their contribution compared to a New York “billionaire” who allegedly bilked the system.
“Donald Trump and his family are grifters. He has created the first grifter presidency in the history of the United States in which his purpose in running for the presidency and exercising the powers of the presidency – the fundamental reason – is to bail himself and his family out,” Carl Bernstein, the investigative journalist who co-reported the Watergate expose said in one TV interview.
Trump’s broad defence: It is all “fake news” – even though he refuses to reveal his tax returns to counter it – and even if he did scam he system as his opponents claim, it is because he is “smart” enough to exploit loop holes.
But some critics say he may have gone too far in claiming write-offs and funneling money to his family members. “His biggest fear is he will end up with a massive tax bill, fraud penalties, fines, and possibly even
,” his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who has since fallen out with the President, told Yahoo News.