Larry Ceisler Discusses the Upcoming Presidential Debate
Q: Last time we spoke, you mentioned how few voters remain undecided in the presidential race. Still, do you think there was any impact from the news in recent weeks – reports of President Trump demeaning the military, or the Bob Woodard tapes? Does that move the needle?
Larry Ceisler: Personally, I don’t think it does. The election is all about Trump. If you like him, this doesn’t affect you because you look at what you think are his accomplishments, and believe those are greater than these revelations. Or you may regard him as an imperfect messenger, but still support him. And if you don’t like him, you’re already there. People are locked in.
Q: That said, Trump is aiming to move suburban voters by emphasizing the protests and episodes of violence. Do you think that’s an effective strategy for him?
Larry Ceisler: I am starting to hear a little anecdotal stuff that the violence and protests have affected some people. The impact is that Trump obviously wants to change the narrative from his handling of COVID to the protests and violence because he knows from history that when law and order is the key issue, Republicans do better. Nixon won on that in 1968.
Q: So you think his emphasis on, as he says, saving the suburbs and keeping them safe, might be resonating?
Larry Ceisler: It has some resonance, some polling shows that. But it’s the last card he has left to play. Polls show decisively that Americans do not feel he has handled the pandemic well, so he needs to get voters to focus on something else.
Q: Recent stories in both New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer focused on Trump’s appeal to rural Pennsylvania voters. The stories said he won the state by winning them over in 2016, and hasn’t lost them in 2020. How does Biden combat that?
Larry Ceisler: I come from one of those areas – Washington County. Biden needs to run incrementally better in those smaller rural counties than Hillary did. She got 35 percent in Washington County in 2016, so if Biden gets 40 percent, he’s doing okay. You know, those areas used to be Democratic counties. But they feel marginalized and left behind and Trump speaks to them. They have a grievance.
But, as real as Trump’s strength is in those areas, you need to put it in context. One municipality in Montgomery County or one ward in Philadelphia has more registered voters than 10 of those rural counties. So it’s a combination of Biden doing slightly better than Hillary – he certainly can’t do worse – and also turning out the votes in the places where she did well.
Q: While Trump has been out holding rallies, Biden has traveled much less. He didn’t leave Delaware during August. Now he’s getting out more, to smaller, safer events. Does he need to expand to holding larger events and rallies?
Larry Ceisler: I don’t think so. I think what’s important for Biden is to get out where he needs to be and make it count. Say something of substance. He just has to show people that he is actually out there in key states. Go to Wisconsin – because Hillary didn’t. Go back to northeast and northwest Pennsylvania, because Hillary didn’t. Show that they’re on his map.
Q: The first Presidential Debate will be Tuesday, September 29th. In brief, what’s the goal for each candidate that night?
Larry Ceisler: Usually it’s the last debate that counts the most, but this year it’s the first one because so much of the country will already be in early voting. For Biden, all he really has to do is exceed every low bar that Trump has set for him. If Biden can put his sentences together and not look off into the distance or come across as a captive from the Marxist left, he’ll be fine.
Q: Trump will certainly try to bait him.
Larry Ceisler: Yes, and Biden has to not take the bait – or at least know which bait to take. He has to figure out how to deal with a string of attacks, because they’re certainly coming. While I’ve said the election is all about Trump, the first debate is all about Biden. Trump has put out so many lines about Biden’s mental capabilities. If Biden can get past that first debate, that’s what he needs to do.
Q: And what does the president need to do?
Larry Ceisler: Trump has to do everything. Usually when there’s a debate with the incumbent, it’s about the challenger trying to tear down the incumbent and his record. This is the opposite. Trump needs to tear down Biden and disqualify him as an alternative. If there are any persuadable voters, Trump needs to put a question mark in their mind toward Biden, and maybe help depress Democratic morale and turnout.
Larry Ceisler is the founder and Principal of Ceisler Media and Issue Advocacy.