Leslie Marshall: Biden must do these things to defeat Trump in debate


Former Vice President Joe Biden’s job in his final debate with President Trump Thursday night will be to show the American people he can end the chaos, lies and failures that have marked Trump’s disastrous term in office, restore stable fact-based leadership, and effectively tackle the major challenges our nation faces.

Those challenges are laid out in the topics chosen by the moderator, NBC’s Kristen Welker, for each 15-minute segment of the 90-minute debate: Fighting COVID-19, American Families, Race in America, Climate Change, National Security, and Leadership.

Hopefully, the decision by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates to mute the microphone of each candidate while the other man is giving a two-minute answer to questions will prevent Trump from constantly interrupting and heckling Biden, as Trump did in their first debate Sept. 29.


Trump hurt himself with that disgraceful performance, coming off as a bully having a temper tantrum. If he tries to repeat that performance, the president will only hurt his own reelection chances and deprive the American people of the chance to hear an intelligent discussion of the issues.

More from Opinion

As a Democrat who wants to see Biden become our next president, here’s my advice to him on each of the six topics — and on Trump inevitably bringing up attacks on other topics, like the conduct of Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

Fighting COVID-19

Biden must lay the blame for the vast majority of the more than 221,000 Americans killed and over 8.3 million infected by the coronavirus at President Trump’s feet. He must call out Trump for the president’s lack of a national plan to fight the virus; passing the buck to states to deal with what is clearly a national crisis; constantly downplaying and lying about the seriousness of the pandemic; rejecting of the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci and other infectious disease experts; and holding massive rallies and other events with no social distancing and little mask-wearing, spreading COVID-19 around the country in a stunningly irresponsible manner.

 Biden must then explain what he will do differently than Trump: Come up with a national plan; listen to scientists; improve coronavirus testing capacity and access to personal protective equipment; produce and distribute a safe and effective vaccine and treatments based on science; use the full authority of the Defense Production Act to produce what is needed; provide desperately needed financial aid to struggling families that have lost jobs and businesses that have seen earnings plummet due to the coronavirus; give state and local governments aid they need to deal with the pandemic and its economic impact; and work with governors to increase mask-wearing and other protective actions.

American Families

Biden has wisely described the campaign as a contest between Scranton and Park Avenue. He needs to show the American people that he empathizes with their struggles because he has experienced struggles growing up in a blue-collar family of modest means, tragically losing his wife and young daughter in a traffic accident, and sadly losing his son to cancer years later.

Biden needs to show how Trump — the son of a multimillionaire — doesn’t care about anyone but himself and is using the presidency to make himself even richer through his businesses, while paying almost nothing in taxes, pushing through tax cuts to primarily benefit the rich, and doing everything possible to deprive families of health insurance by trying to kill the Affordable Care Act.

Biden needs to speak directly to Americans suffering as a result of COVID-19’s health and economic impact — with children out of school, and normal life disrupted. And he needs to make clear that he will tell us the truth, unlike Trump.

Race in America

Biden should expose Trump as the divider-in-chief who fans the flames of racism and other forms of prejudice, pits Americans against each other, triggers violence, and denies the existence of systemic racism.

The former vice president should make clear that he will be the uniter-in-chief and work to eradicate prejudice and enable all Americans to achieve the American Dream. He should once again state that he supports law enforcement and crime-fighting efforts, but will work to provide police departments with training and funding needed to crack down on police brutality and discriminatory treatment of minorities.

Biden should point out how people of color are disproportionately impacted in their health and economically by COVID-19, suffer greater levels of poverty, lower educational achievement and other longstanding measures of inequality. And he should pledge to tackle these issues to benefit members of minority groups.

Trump will almost certainly attack Biden for sponsoring the 1994 crime bill in the Senate, which increased imprisonment of people of color.  As he did at the ABC town hall, Biden should admit the bill had been a mistake, and stress how he has learned from mistakes. He can point out how this contrasts with Trump, who never admits any mistake.

Climate change

Biden should point that that Trump has called climate change a “Chinese hoax” and has rolled back important environmental regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as pulled out of the Paris Climate Accords. Just as he does with the coronavirus pandemic Trump seems to believe if he ignores climate change it will just disappear, like a miracle.

The former vice president should point out the fallacy of Trump’s claims that sound environmental policies will create massive unemployment and disrupt our way of life. Instead, Biden should explain how green jobs can revitalize our economy and transform it for the better. 

Biden should make clear that he is not an environmental extremist and show where he differs with the most drastic parts of the Green New Deal, while at the same time making clear that it is in our self-interest to gradually replace our dependence on fossil fuels with clean energy alternatives.

National Security

Biden needs to point out that Trump has been a national security disaster, criticizing our allies and cozying up to dictators — going so far as to say he and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un were in love, and almost never criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Biden should call attention to Trump’s erratic foreign and defense policy decision made on the spur of the moment, without consulting allies or even his own military and civilian advisers. The former vice president should point out that Trump skips his intelligence briefings and refuses to read up on foreign policy.

And Biden can call attention to serious questions that have been raised about how Trump’s foreign policy decisions are influenced by his efforts to boost his mismanaged, money-losing businesses, along with Trump’s many foreign policy failures.

Biden should also talk about his extensive experience dealing with foreign policy issues in the Senate and as vice president, and point to successes he has achieved. 


Biden’s long career in government gives him the experience and skills needed to succeed as president. His should stress this and explain how he would govern like a normal world leader.

Trump exhibits frightening instability, changes his mind frequently, spends much of his days sending out hate-filled tweets, and treats the presidency like a reality TV show. Biden should point this out and explain how Trump is unqualified to hold our nation’s highest office and incapable of doing the job of president in an effective manner.

Biden should repeat his campaign promise that he would be a president for all Americans, not just Democrats. By contrast, Trump seems focused only on helping his base.


Dealing with Trump’s attacks

Finally, Biden should prepare for unhinged attacks by Trump based on lies rather than facts. You can bet that Trump will call Biden a socialist, a tool of China, a dangerous radical, a criminal (as he did this week) and maybe even say the former vice president is suffering from dementia.

And Trump will most certainly make trumped-up accusations against Biden’s son Hunter for Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Biden shouldn’t get down in the mud with Trump. Biden shouldn’t tell Trump to shut up or call him a clown, as he did in their first debate. The former vice president needs to truly highlight the differences between him and Trump, and show he is the adult in the room. When Trump acts like a fool, Biden should just laugh at his foolishness.


On Hunter Biden, Vice President Biden should give honest answers and not loses his temper. He can point out that the business and government entanglements of Trump and Trump’s children dwarf anything Hunter is accused of.

Millions of Americans have already voted and millions more will cast ballots before Election Day Nov. 3. Polls show few of us are undecided at this late date. My hope is that Biden’s intelligence, experience and dedication to serving the American people and improving our lives will shine through in the debate and help him become our next president.