Trump, Biden Prep for First Debate 09/27 11:10
Ahead of the first debate-stage matchup between President Donald Trump and
his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, each campaign is promising a stark
contrast in policy, personality and preparation.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ahead of the first debate-stage matchup between President
Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, each campaign is
promising a stark contrast in policy, personality and preparation.
Trump has decided to skip any formal preparation. And while Biden's team
believes the significance of the debate may be exaggerated, the Democratic
nominee has been aggressively preparing to take on the president.
Biden's campaign has been holding mock debate sessions featuring Bob Bauer,
a senior Biden adviser and former White House general counsel, playing the role
of Trump, according to a person with direct knowledge of the preparations who
spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy. Bauer has not
actually donned a Trump costume in line with Trump stand-ins from previous
years, but he is representing his style and expected strategy.
"I'm sure the president will throw everything he can at (Biden). My guess is
that they're preparing for that -- bombarding him with insults and weird
digressions," said Jay Carney, a former aide to Biden and President Barack
Trump and Biden are scheduled to meet on the debate stage for the first time
Tuesday night at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic in
Cleveland, Ohio. The 90-minute event moderated by Fox News host Chris Wallace
is the first of three scheduled presidential debates. Vice President Mike Pence
and California Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden's running mate, will also debate in
For some, the debates represent the most important moments in the 2020
campaign's closing days, a rare opportunity for millions of voters to compare
the candidates' policies and personalities side-by-side on prime-time
television. Trump has been trailing Biden in the polls for the entire year, a
reality that gives the president an urgent incentive to change the direction of
the contest on national television if he can.
Others, including those close to Biden's campaign, do not expect the debates
to fundamentally change the race no matter what happens, given voters' daily
struggles with the pandemic and the economy. They also point to high-profile
debates in past elections thought to be game-changing moments at the time but
that ultimately had little lasting effect.
Those with knowledge of Biden's preparations suggest he will not take the
fight to Trump if he can avoid it. But on Saturday, at least, he was on the
attack when he discussed his strategy on MSNBC.
"I'm prepared to go out and make my case as to why I think he's failed and
why I think the answers I have to proceed will help the American people, the
American economy and make us safer internationally," Biden said, arguing that
Trump won't persuade voters with broadsides because "the people know the
president is a liar."
He also compared Trump to Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph
Goebbels, saying, "He's sort of like Goebbels. You say the lie long enough,
keep repeating, repeating, repeating, it becomes common knowledge."
While Biden has said he will try to be a fact checker of sorts on stage, the
Democrat is being advised to avoid direct confrontations and instead redirect
the conversation to more familiar campaign themes of unity and issues that
matter most to voters: the economy, health care and the pandemic.
"Arguing over facts, litigating whether what he's saying is accurate, that
is not winning to Biden," said Jen Psaki, a former Obama aide who is close to
Biden's team. "This is an opportunity to speak directly to the American people.
His objective should be to speak directly to them, but not be pulled in by
Trump. That is hard."
Trump has not been doing any formal preparation, according to aides and
allies who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
No set has been constructed and aides refused to say whether anyone is
playing Biden. Trump, instead, has maintained that the best preparation is
doing his day job --- particularly his frequent and often contentious
interactions with reporters. White House aides also scheduled an ABC town hall
earlier this month to expose Trump to real voter questions for the first time
in months in preparation for the second debate.
Privately some aides and allies are worried that Trump's lack of formal
preparation will lead him to fall into the same hubris trap as other incumbents
in their first general election debate. Obama, for example, famously struggled
in his first matchup against Mitt Romney in 2012.
But other Trump backers are confident that the president is ready to handle
any tough questions or pushback from Biden.
"The debates matter," said Lara Trump, a senior adviser to the campaign and
the president's daughter-in-law. "Donald Trump certainly did a great job on the
debates (in 2016) and I think this will be no different."
Lara Trump also seemed to simultaneously raise and lower expectations for
"Joe Biden spent a lot of time in his basement to study up. He's been in
this game for 47 years. I assume he'll do okay," she said. "Quite frankly, the
bar has been lowered so much for Joe Biden that if he stays awake for the whole
thing it's like maybe he won."
The mixed messages were in line with those of Trump's allies who spent much
of the year raising questions about Biden's physical and mental strength, while
in recent days trying to cast him as a strong and experienced debater facing a
relative neophyte in Trump.
Trump offered a preview of his approach on Sunday when he raised accusations
with no evidence that Biden's previous debate performances were influenced by
medication. In a tweet, Trump said he would demand that Biden take a drug test
and that he would as well.
Trump's message seemed to be an attempt at both tripping up Biden and
preemptively offering an explanation to his supporters if the Democratic
nominee has a strong performance.
A former reality show star, the president is keenly aware of the power and
pitfalls of live television. Aides say he is acutely mindful of the power of
"moments" to define how a debate is perceived and that he intends to make his
share of them happen.
Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor and onetime national
Democratic chairman, said Biden must fashion a succinct, debate-stage version
of his message since the spring: draw a straight line from Trump's personal
deficiencies to his handling of the pandemic, its economic fallout, the
national reckoning on race and then explain why a Biden presidency would be
"Trump's just looking for a Hail Mary here," McAuliffe said. "He knows he's