Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden appeared last night for the first round of debates leading up to the November election. Jon Lieber, Eurasia Group U.S. Managing Director, joins The Final Round to break down what happened during the presidential debate and what impact it will have for the two candidates.
SEANA SMITH: The first presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden taking place last night, and hardly a minute went by without one of the candidates interrupting the other. I started the tease for last block, I was saying it was one that we will never forget. It's one that we would all like to forget here, because the 90 minutes that we heard from both was a little bit painful, I think you can say.
But for on this, I want to bring in Jon Lieber. He's Eurasia Group US Managing Director. And Jon, it was a chaotic first debate. In your note, I know you called it an extremely combative affair. Just overall, now that we've had some time to digest what we heard last night, what are your thoughts? And did we hear anything, do you think, that changed the trajectory of this race?
JON LIEBER: Yeah, that wasn't a lot of fun. So sometimes watching, following politics is a lot of fun, and that was not one of those instances. It was more painful than anything else. And no, I don't think that the trajectory of the race changes at all coming out of this.
You know, Biden's the front-runner. He had the most to lose as the front-runner. Trump-- this was Trump's opportunity to gain ground. This is an audience of tens of millions of people. And what Trump really wanted to see was Biden have a misstep, a senior moment to prove that he's lost a step since he was vice president four years ago.
That didn't happen. Trump seemed a little unhinged. And coming out of it, Biden's still the front-runner. So we still think that, you know, two in three chance Biden wins this thing. It's still close enough in enough states that we call it competitive. But the debates just aren't going to matter as much as they used to, and people had less exposure to these candidates.
SEANA SMITH: Well, Jon, in the midst of all the interrupting, we did hear a little bit about the policies and the plans if Joe Biden or President Trump were to be president here in 2020. I want to play a quick sound bite of what we heard when it comes to the economy and also trade from last night.
DONALD TRUMP: So we've built the greatest economy in history. We closed it down because of the China plague. When the plague came in, we closed it down, which was very hard psychologically to do. He didn't think we should close it down, and he was wrong.
CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. Vice President.
JOE BIDEN: We inherited the worst recession short of a depression in American history. I was asked to bring it back. We were able to have an economic recovery that created the jobs you're talking about. We handed him a booming economy. He blew it.
He's done very little. His trade deals are the same way. He talks about these great trade deals. You know, he talks about the art of the deal. China's made-- perfected the art of the steal. We have a higher deficit with China now than we did before. We have the highest deficit-- trade deficit--
DONALD TRUMP: China ate your lunch.
JOE BIDEN: --with Mexico.
CHRIS WALLACE: All right, gentlemen.
DONALD TRUMP: Down 18%.
CHRIS WALLACE: In-- in--
DONALD TRUMP: China ate your lunch, Joe.
SEANA SMITH: Jon, from what we heard last night and also the conversations that you're having with clients at Eurasia Group, do you think that there's a clear view on whether Biden or Trump will be better for economic growth?
JON LIEBER: It's mixed, and it depends on which issue you're looking at. I think that clearly, when it comes to regulation, Biden's going to be worse. I mean, there's barely any president in history that's been as deregulatory as President Trump has.
When it comes to tax policy, Biden's also going to be worse. You're likely going to see tax hikes on corporate America and on high-income Americans. On spending policy, though, Biden's going to be a lot better, because he's already proposed-- he's basically signaled he's going to sign a $3 to $4 trillion stimulus at some point next year. And then you're going to have ongoing continued increases in spending that will probably translate into higher deficits under Biden than under Trump.
I think on the trade issue is where there's the most disagreement amongst our clients. Some think Biden's going to be better for corporate America. He'll lower trade barriers. He'll return life to normal. And others take the view that, frankly, I have, which is that, you know, Trump's put us on a one-way path towards more protectionism. And I think it's going to be really, really hard for Biden to unwind that without some major concessions from the Chinese, in particular, and that doesn't seem likely to come anytime in 2021.
RICK NEWMAN: Hey, Jon, Rick Newman here. I guess I'm in the minority, but I thought last night's debate was quite useful, because, I mean, I don't think we could possibly have gotten a clearer distinction between the character of the two candidates than we saw in 90 minutes last night, or even 20 minutes or 10 minutes if that's all people could have watched.
But you did say that you don't think debate-- the debates are-- do matter very much, and we-- even though we have two more. What could change the outcome here? Could it be anything one of the candidates says or does? Or would it have to be some sort of black swan event, do you think?
JON LIEBER: You know, the challenging thing with trying to follow Trump is that he does so many things that are so unconventional that would be absolutely disqualifying and the end of any other politician's career, but he's still president. So the guy's found a way to be successful with his style that I think, you know, obviously turns off the cable pundits and obviously turns off, at least the people in my Twitter feed, but it's got an appeal to a large group of Americans. So I don't think President Trump showed us anything that he hasn't shown us already, and he's not going to. There's thousands of hours of TV of this guy doing this stuff over the last five years.
Biden, however, is the one who's on display. Biden's the one who's been avoiding public events, avoiding extemporaneous speeches. And I think that the big risks still exist in the second and third debate for Biden that he shows that he's-- you know, in the presidential-- in the primary debates, he was much weaker than he was last night. He forgot his sentence.
He trailed off in certain cases. And if that comes back, it's going to be a big story. The advantage Biden has is that by the time the next debates come around, tens of millions of Americans will have cast ballots because of mail voting and the early vote.
AKIKO FUJITA: Jon, I'm just curious what your expectation is in terms of voter turnout. And is there a risk if there is another debate-- because there is a debate about continuing on with these debates. If there is another debate, is there a risk of just turning off voters altogether? I mean, I watched that yesterday and thought, if you were already apathetic and discouraged by what was happening in Washington, you just don't want to have anything to do with it.
JON LIEBER: Yeah, that was one of my questions coming out of last night is, how much blame does Biden bear for the cacophony that we saw? And you know, I think it's an open question that maybe people just say, you know, forget both these guys. But you know, polls tell us that voter interest in this election is sky-high.
Over 80% of people in "The Wall Street Journal" said that they were following this election very closely. That was in the beginning of September. Those are numbers you usually don't see until very late in October. So interest is really high, which suggests that turnout is going to be through the roof. And because of the pandemic, a whole bunch of states are expanding opportunities to vote by increasing early voting and increasing mail voting, which just makes it easier for people to get their ballots in.
ANDY SERWER: And Jon, even given that, though, my understanding is that the number of people who watched the debate last night was down significantly from 2016, which surprised me. And I guess I would vote to not have any more debates. And I'm wondering if you think that Joe Biden should make that case, make that choice and just say, I'm done here. I don't think it would hurt his chances one bit.
JON LIEBER: It might not, but it's a risk. And if you're Joe Biden, why take that risk? I mean, I think that this guy-- you know, he's-- the risk for him doing more debates is what? That President Trump shouts some more? That he's got to defend himself? I mean, I don't know what the risk is for him, other than the fact, you know, maybe, like I said, he has kind of a senior moment, which obviously he doesn't think he's going to have, so why does he quit?
The next debate, interestingly, is going to be a town hall. So it's going to be a direct conversation with voters, so a very different style and look than we saw last night. Frankly, I'm kind of curious to see how Trump handles that. I don't think this combative, over-the-top style-- style works when you've got kind of Joe voter there asking you questions.
ANDY SERWER: Yeah, it'll be interesting because he'll get, you know, people who kind of lob softballs at him, and he'll say great. And then he's going to get people who attack him, and I guess vice versa for Vice President Biden as well. Interesting.
SEANA SMITH: All right, Jon Lieber, great to get your perspective. We look forward to having you back after one of the next two debates. We'll talk to you soon. Jon Lieber, Eurasia Group US Managing Director.