President Donald Trump spent part of his Sunday preparing for his upcoming debate with former Vice President Joe Biden despite publicly ridiculing Biden’s mental acumen at campaign rallies.
“We had a little debate prep before we came here,” Trump told reporters on Tuesday when he appeared Sunday with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
While supporters question whether Biden will even show up at the debate, the president has acknowledged that Biden could emerge from his basement prepared either through performance-enhancing drugs or through years of political experience.
“They said, ‘How do you think he’s going to do in the debate?’” Trump recalled on Friday in a campaign rally in Newport News, Virginia. “I think good. He’s been doing it for 47 years. I think he’s going to do good, I think.”
Despite Trump’s repeated mockery of Biden as historically the “dumbest of all candidates,” the campaign is setting the stage for the establishment candidate to deliver a scripted performance.
“When it comes to canned or rehearsed content, Biden knows how to deliver, and hiding from the campaign trail all these months, he’s had plenty of time to prepare for the debates,” Deputy National Press Secretary Samantha Zager said in a statement to Breitbart News. “If he doesn’t recite his lines well on stage, what’s he been doing in the basement all these months?”
Democrats breathed a sigh of relief after Biden sufficiently delivered his Democrat National Convention speech, his only in-person audience being a small group of reporters. Pundits praised the former vice president’s performance, suggesting that Trump’s repeated attacks on Biden’s mental state were unwarranted.
Trump slips easily into attack mode, with decades of Biden’s political experience to portray him as a corrupt establishment failure.
But Biden survived a Democrat primary where his opponents tried to weaponize his tired political record to eliminate him from the stage.
Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and other long-shot candidates took their own shots at Biden during the debate, but they rarely landed.
Biden typically flashed a knowing grin to the audience each time he was attacked, easily shrugging off the obvious politics of the moment. When he responded, Biden usually filibustered until his debate clock ran out.
The last time Biden debated a Republican was eight years ago, against former Rep. Paul Ryan in the vice presidential debate of the 2012 campaign.
Biden used a similar strategy.
When Ryan attacked, Biden grinned and laughed, or looking up at the ceiling with a sigh or projected disbelief that the attack was even happening. Biden grinned and said “that’s not true,” gleefully taking notes as Ryan delivered his staccato attack against the Obama administration’s foreign policy.
“With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey because not a single thing he said was accurate,” he said, before deploying a series of scripted attacks challenging Ryan. Team Obama celebrated Biden’s “malarkey” response as vintage Biden, a folksy natural politician that easily disarmed Ryan’s wonky scripted attack points with a smile.
Obviously, Trump is better on camera than Ryan or any of Biden’s more aggressive primary opponents. Biden might find it difficult to laugh off the barrage of attacks unleashed by the president.
Biden could also lose his temper if the president brings in attacks on Biden’s family, such as any attacks on his son Hunter Biden’s history of corruption. When flustered or off-script, Biden typically shifts into general moralism, pleading with the debate audience to recognize Trump’s character flaws and realize that he is the more decent and empathic person.
Ultimately, Biden’s biggest danger is facing a sustained challenge from an opponent. The former vice president has experienced the entire general election campaign in mostly 5-10 minute exchanges with mostly sympathetic reporters and interviewers.
Trump reminded reporters on Sunday that unlike Biden, he frequently takes questions from a hostile press.
“I think this whole thing, though, is debate prep,” he said at the White House press conference. “You know, what I do is debate prep every day. I’m taking questions from you people all the time. I mean, I’ve taken a lot of questions from you over the last number of years, and he doesn’t.”
Trump also questioned whether the moderator of the debate, Fox News host Chris Wallace, would hold Biden accountable.
“Chris is tough,” he said on Sunday. “I hope that Chris is going to be equally tough on Joe Biden.”