[guest post by Dana]
Well, tonight’s the big night. The first of three presidential debate begins at 9 p.m. ET (6 p.m. PT) and you can watch it on every major network and cable news channel as well as on YouTube.
So, how’s the debate prep going for the two candidates? Frankly, the former TV reality star doesn’t appear to be too concerned about doing any serious preparation ahead of tonight’s event:
On Monday morning, he made a surprise appearance on the South Lawn to survey a new all-electric pickup truck. He convened reporters in the Rose Garden later in the day for an announcement on Covid testing.
On Saturday, the President was largely preoccupied with the pending announcement of Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee and held no formal debate prep sessions, according to people familiar with the matter… After the announcement Trump flew to Pennsylvania for a campaign rally.
On Sunday, Trump spent much of the morning and early afternoon at his private golf club in Virginia — and was seen playing a round on the course midday — before convening an early evening press conference, which had no discernible purpose other than repeating his praise of Barrett and making false claims about mail-in voting. Christie and Giuliani joined him off to the side, and Trump said they were alternating playing Biden in debate practice sessions…
“We had a little debate prep before we came here,” Trump said at his news conference. “I think this whole thing, though, is debate prep. You know, what I do is debate prep every day.”
But there is some loosey-goosy-on-the-go prep happening:
In reality, people familiar with the matter said, both men along with several of the President’s aides are informally tossing out lines they believe Biden might use to see how Trump responds.
That includes accusing Trump of mismanaging the coronavirus pandemic, which the President is likely to rebut by citing his decision to ban travel from China — and accusing Biden of being soft on Beijing. Aides also expect Biden to bring up reports Trump disparaged members of the military, which he will seek to counter by pointing to his record of securing Pentagon funding while accusing Biden of supporting endless foreign wars.
Trump’s Director of Communications Tim Murtaugh echoed the President:
“The president prepares by being president. And by regularly facing hostile news media. That’s pretty good practice by any measure.” The president spokesperson added that while President Trump’s ABC News Town Hall last month advertised questions by “uncommitted” voters, the president was pressed. “He faced a rigorous and challenging questioning, I think, to put it mildly. It was a good debate practice workout.”
And yet, one would have to believe that surely his aides and campaign handlers are peppering the President with strategical responses to the just-released analysis of his tax returns. Specifically on how he should respond to Americans’ outrage over $750. With a massive number of voters now unemployed, losing their businesses, being evicted from their places of residence, and/or relying on food banks for the first time all because of the pandemic, how does Trump explain the paltry sum to frustrated Americans? Certainly blathering on about tax laws and loopholes, etc., is not going to cut it. While one would think that his base would continue to see this as just another unfair attack on him, might this just be a bridge too far for those supporters that have actually taken a financial hit during the pandemic? And of course, what about the undecideds? How does he reach them in light of this latest revelation?
For Joe Biden, debate prep is happening in the traditional do-your-homework manner:
[D]ebate prep has been taking place both in-person at his Delaware home and virtually, in huddles with long-time advisers and top campaign officials, according to a campaign source familiar with the strategy.
The Democrats are reviewing the president’s almost daily tweets about Biden, his record and his family as examples of the type of attacks they think the president will focus on.
“The people know the president is a liar,” Biden said in a MSNBC interview on Saturday. “He doesn’t know how to debate the facts, because he’s not that smart.”
“He doesn’t know that many facts. He doesn’t know much about foreign policy. He doesn’t know much about domestic policy. He doesn’t know much about the details,” Biden added.
For their part, the campaign believes Tuesday’s debate topics — specifically, COVID-19, race and violence in cities, and election integrity — allow Biden to highlight what he sees as the president’s most serious missteps. He’s expected to retool criticisms of the Trump administration he has been using for the past few months.
Biden is also expected to defend the Affordable Care Act and connect its fate, in part, to the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, since Democrats see the nominee as potentially hostile to the Obama-era healthcare plan.
Axios lists some possible pitfalls that Trump and Biden need to watch for, respectively. I’ve taken their list and added my own thoughts and examples to it, thus it’s not in blockquotes:
Overconfidence. He hasn’t taken debate prep seriously. He is a bully by nature, and he may try to strongarm Biden – who has had 47 years of debate experience.
Policy. Can he clearly articulate what his second-term agenda would look like without the use of a teleprompter, or will he just go on some generalized stemwinder, which is what he is most comfortable with?
Attacks on the moderator. Think: Megyn Kelly.
Downplaying the coronavirus. How can his team even prepare him to answer to valid attacks by Biden on his mishandling of the pandemic when he has steadfastly refused to admit to it?
Lying. This will be a big problem for Trump, who likes to make stuff up in general. Given that Chris Wallace won’t be fact-checking the President, this presents the risk of Trump getting away with any number of lies during the actual debate (although his lies will be called out afterward).
The potential pitfalls for Joe Biden include: misspeaking, transposing numbers or seeming to lose his train of thought.
Losing his cool. He has been confrontational with voters while on the campaign trail, and has aggressively gotten in their faces. So, when Trump baits him tonight, will he be able to keep his cool? It’s a problem for Biden, especially as he has even lost his temper and blamed Democrats for his own words. Remember when he was a guest on radio host Charlamagne tha God, and made his now infamous comment, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” and the next day angrily blamed the black radio host for baiting him? Another example was, when he was questioned by a reporter about whether he had taken a cognitive test, Biden got angry and demanded to know whether the reporter was a junkie.
Verbosity. It is nearly impossible for Biden to go straight from Point A to Point B in a succinct and coherent manner. He is prone to finding himself out in the weeds, resulting in a tuned-out-glazed-over audience. He needs to make cogent and succinct arguments.
Lying. Biden is prone to storytelling and has been known to tell some real whoppers.
Tripping over his own tongue. He is also a human gaffe machine who has insulted any number of minority voters.
And there is this: “He’s also a creature of decades spent in the Senate, and some of his parliamentary verbiage is better understood in the cloakroom than in American living rooms.”
P.S. – The Trump campaign has made a last-minute request that both camps allow a third-party inspection of the debaters’ ears tonight for any electronic devices or transmitters. While Trump has agreed to this, Biden has declined to any such ear check.
It should be a fun night!
UPDATE BY PATTERICO: I’ll try to be active in the comments. Let’s keep it friendly! Biden did make this joke on Twitter:
It’s debate night, so I’ve got my earpiece and performance enhancers ready. pic.twitter.com/EhOiWdjh1b
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 29, 2020