Ed Rollins: Trump is presidential debate underdog. If he loses this faceoff, he’s toast. Here’s how to win it

In politics, as in life, you seldom get a second chance to make a first impression. But the second presidential debate, which may be viewed by more than 75 million Americans, is that second chance for President Trump.

Leading up to the debate, two things are obvious: First, President Trump is the underdog, and losing tonight will most likely cost him the 2020 election. Second, Vice President Joe Biden has remade himself from a lethargic, inept challenger into a credible alternative to an unpopular president.

Most observers, including myself, didn’t think much of Biden’s candidacy when he clinched the Democratic nomination in August. Come October, I didn’t expect him to be leading nationally, or in key battleground states. But he is, and President Trump needs to flip the script.

To the casual observer, Biden’s stay-at-home strategy has changed from laziness or cowardice into responsible leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic.


He has avoided major gaffes while encouraging President Trump to shoot himself in the foot. The president, who should be running away with the race, has gladly obliged and stumbled.

President Trump is struggling to find a closing message that projects hope and optimism for the future, while still exposing the Democrats for their radical leftism.

The recent charges involving Biden’s son, Hunter, and his questionable, unsavory business dealings abroad need to be addressed. The denial by Biden that he knew nothing about them now rings hollow. However, while potential corruption is an issue that President Trump could spend an entire debate litigating, the charges are not yet proven and they would distract from the Trump agenda.

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The winning message is not “lock him up”—or his troubled son. The winning message has nothing to do with “Crooked Hillary.” Four years later, who cares what Hillary Clinton did? Clinton’s punishment is ongoing and she will remember it for the rest of her life—she lost to Donald Trump.

Here’s what Trump needs to say: “My fellow Americans, it has been the privilege of my life to lead you—in good times and bad. Together, we have accomplished a great deal—from sky-high economic growth and record-low unemployment to bipartisan criminal justice reform and a clampdown on illegal immigration.”


The closing message is this: “Re-elect me, and we will accomplish even more. Together, we will rebuild the COVID-19 economy, on behalf of white- and blue-collar Americans. Together, we will produce a COVID-19 vaccine and minimize the public-health risks of a novel virus. Together, we will support the U.S. military, which is the finest collection of fighting men and women in the world. Together, we will continue strengthening our judiciary branch, headlined by the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

That is the winning message that Americans need to hear Thursday night. If they do, President Trump can reverse his fortunes and secure his re-election.

In the final stretch of the campaign, the greatest test for President Trump is to forcefully make a case for re-election without resorting to petty attacks against Biden and the Democrats.

On Wednesday night, President Obama delivered a blistering attack against the Trump administration. President Trump should refrain from his normal combativeness and simply sell his “America First” agenda to American voters.

If he makes a new impression, President Trump can deliver the greatest comeback since President Truman’s upset in 1948. If he wins, every Democrat will be humbled, knowing that their party’s radical agenda had been stopped. Another Trump win would force Democrats to realize that they need to work with the president on the economy, COVID-19, and other issues.


President Trump’s last chance to alter the dynamics of the 2020 election begins with the second presidential debate. If he kicks sand in Biden’s face and regurgitates past insults, President Trump will score points with his conservative base, but not without turning off independents, suburban women, and young voters.

If President Trump is presidential, however, he can win the votes of countless Americans. The ball is in his court.


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