Written by 22:19 Business

A Debate Cheat Sheet for Business

All eyes will be on CNN at 9 p.m. Eastern, when President Biden and Donald Trump face off in their first debate since 2020. Among the keenest watchers will be executives and investors looking for signs about how the candidates might handle the economy and business in a second term.

There will be plenty to scrutinize in the 90-minute, audience-free debate, including what the candidates say and how they say it. Here’s what we will be looking out for. (And, for a lighter take, check out our debate “bingo card” further below.)

The economy is the big question. Various measures show strong growth under Biden, but many voters feel differently. What will Biden and Trump say about some of the key issues?

  • Inflation: This is clearly a challenge for the president, as Americans complain about what they’re paying in the grocery store, at the pump and on their rent. Biden can say that price increases are slowing down, and will most likely emphasize his administration’s efforts to crack down on “corporate greed,” like taking on so-called junk fees. Trump will probably stress how good things were when he took office in 2017 — an economy many Americans want back.

  • Taxes: Biden’s proposals for higher corporate taxes will hit profits: “It’s simple math,” David Bahnsen, the founder and chief investment officer of the Bahnsen Group, told DealBook. Many business leaders don’t like Biden’s plan to increase taxes on the wealthy, either. Trump will probably stress his desire to extend his 2017 tax cuts and lower the corporate rate to 20 percent. But questions about corporate earnings and the economy may eclipse those concerns.

  • Protectionism: Both candidates want to increase tariffs on Chinese goods, but Biden has been more targeted in how he has done it during his presidency. Trump has proposed significantly higher across-the-board levies, though it’s unclear how serious he is about it. Economists have warned that Trump’s potential approach could aggravate inflation and hurt the economy.

  • Markets: The S&P 500 set 31 records this year; investors will hope neither party messes with that momentum. In Thursday night’s debate, “markets probably care more about presentation than policy pledges,” Paul Donovan, an economist at UBS, wrote in a client note. Biden may have a slight edge, he added, since investors would prefer keeping “some continuity.”

Other issues will probably feature prominently. Biden will most likely raise abortion rights, a topic that has helped Democrats win in recent elections. Trump will almost certainly speak a lot about immigration, perhaps his most potent issue — and one that many, including Elon Musk, say is a failure of Biden’s.

The intangibles will matter. Executives told DealBook that C.E.O.s will be paying attention to how Biden and Trump perform:

  • For Biden, 81, an important issue for business leaders and many voters is whether he is still fit to serve. A sharp, forceful performance could go a ways in quieting any concerns.

  • For Trump, 78, competence is a question as well. But his demeanor will also be under scrutiny, especially if he comes across as overly abrasive or erratic. Some executives said their feelings would come down to whether they can stomach another four years of a Trump presidency.

There’s also the show around the show. Trump has suggested that his potential running mate would be in Atlanta for the debate. The Times reports that his list is narrowing, with Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida being of particular interest.

The pick may matter a great deal to Trump’s campaign: The Republican megadonor Ken Griffin has said the choice could influence whether he opens up his wallet for Trump.


Last modified: 30 June 2024