US Election Third Debate Preview: Could the mute button save Trump from himself?

Donald Trump
Will the final debate produce a gamechanger by giving us a different side of Trump?

Donald Trump's odds usually move backwards after TV debates but new rules might actually help his cause. Paul Krishnamurty previews tonight's event

"The new rules might actually work in Trump's favour. Any Biden gaffe will be heard, rather than drowned out by interruptions and been forgotten. The mute button might save Trump from himself."

The final presidential TV debate is tonight, live from Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, from 02:00 BST. Viewers can find it either online or on CNN, via Sky channel 506.

Originally this was meant to be third time Trump and Biden squared up but the second was cancelled after the president caught Covid, then rejected a virtual debate. Instead the candidates held rival Town Hall events at the same time, with nothing like the cut-through. The return to a head-to-head format is bound to generate a lot more interest.

How final debate moved previous markets

Historically, the final debate hasn't significantly impacted the Betfair markets. Certainly nothing like the first - which always coincides with a surge in liquidity, as overseas gamblers take a closer interest.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton was deemed the winner, but her odds remained around 1.21/5. In the first two debates, her odds had shortened significantly.

In 2012, Barack Obama was widely deemed to have won, yet his odds actually drifted from 1.528/15 to 1.584/7 over the next couple of days.

In 2008, Obama did shorten from 1.21/5 to 1.162/13 and his odds would never hit those levels again. In 2004, George W Bush drifted from 1.674/6 to 1.715/7.

2020 betting seems more volatile

This may be different. In all those previous elections, the market was generally stable at this point. There seemed a consensus about the correct price. That cannot be said about this cycle. The last ten days saw Biden drift from 1.412/5 to 1.738/11 and back into the current 1.548/15.

Evidently there is deep disagreement with three camps represented - Biden backers, such as myself, who think he's massively under-rated and trust the polls; Trump backers who argue the polls are fake; a huge swathe who are simply sceptical with memories of 2016 in mind. Perhaps tonight's events will provide some clarity.

Trump's last chance of a gamechanger?

Plus, the cancellation of that second debate arguably adds more weight and relevance to this occasion. Perhaps a last chance for Trump to change the game. To undo the damage from the first debate. As a result of that anarchic night, new rules will be in place. For two minutes at the start of each segment while one candidate answers a question, the other's microphone will be muted.

Trump isn't happy about the rule but it might actually work in his favour.

Any Biden gaffe will be heard, rather than drowned out by interruptions and been forgotten. The mute button might save Trump from himself. The reaction from focus groups to his behaviour that night was devastating.

Trump's debate record is awful

He certainly needs to try a new tack. Trump has participated in four presidential debates. He was deemed the loser in snap polls every time. In three, his odds moved significantly the wrong way, with no effect in the other. The aftermath of the most recent impacted the polls more than anything in months.

For Biden, clearly this is a holding job. The Democrat will be well aware how things changed at this stage of the 2016 campaign. Eleven days out, the FBI announced they were reviewing further Clinton e-mails, thus reviving the scandal. It hurt her and possibly proved decisive.

Biden's simple task - avoid gaffes!

His task is simply to avoid any disasters tonight, so he can return to the background, letting Trump hog the limelight. Don't allow the election to be re-framed. A referendum on a president with entrenched strong disapprovals suits the challenger just fine.

So what might move the needle? We must assume Trump will hammer unfounded allegations about Hunter Biden. As blogged earlier, I don't expect this to work and could backfire. Biden has flatly rejected any wrongdoing and called it a desperate last-minute smear campaign.

Hunter Biden smears may fall flat

Trump may not even try that tactic, because it will instantly amplify the scandal about to engulf his own lawyer. Rudy Giuliani, a central player in the pursuit of dirt against the Bidens in Ukraine, has apparently been caught in a deeply compromising situation in the new Borat movie.

On policy and wider issues, expect no surprises. Trump will stick to his lines that a Biden government will lead to more violence and lawlessness, in a naked attempt to scare the suburbs.

He will doubtless be challenged about white supremacy, Qanon and committing to a peaceful transfer of power. I don't think he'll hesitate to condemn white supremacy this time - he did so last week at the Town Hall. On the latter two, he doubled down.

The one line of attack that might have some traction regards Biden's refusal to state whether or not he will pack the Supreme Court, prior to the election. His answer is weak on this, and would have caused problems in any normal campaign.

Will Obama's mockery trigger Trump?

Whether detail cuts through is highly questionable though. Trump events are all about how he behaves. The lines he throws at his opponent. The biggest question for me is whether he will rise to Obama's bait.

The former president hit the campaign trail last night and went straight for the jugular. Obama both condemned and mocked Trump in equal measure. His obsession with TV ratings, superficiality and his conspiracy theories. His secret Chinese bank account.

Obama knows what he's doing. Trump usually can't help being triggered, as was the case during and after his speech at the Democrat Convention. As the tweets poured out, the contrast between the character of America's last two presidents was widely noted.

Trump could use tonight as an attempt to at least temporarily change. Use the new rules to take a more serious approach. Or he could react to Obama and amplify the attacks by his much more popular predecessor.

Follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.

2020 US Presidential Election: USA - Presidential Election 2020 (Next President)

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Tuesday 3 November, 10.00am

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