Donald Trump will face Joe Biden within days for the first of three presidential debates, and some of the president’s supporters are already bracing for a humiliating loss.
White House allies, Republican donors and some of Trump’s closest advisers worry that a recent, frenzied push by his top lieutenants to portray Biden as a seasoned debater — with the goal of raising expectations for the Democratic presidential nominee — is too late and too disingenuous to have an impact when the two meet on the debate stage next Tuesday.
They worry Trump has set a trap for himself by incessantly attacking Biden’s age and mental acumen. It’s a tactic the president has maintained even as his campaign publicly insists the former vice president is fully capable of a satisfactory performance. Unlike the president, who has spuriously claimed Biden is “probably” on performance-enhancing drugs, Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh attributed Biden’s “quite good” performance in past debates to the Democrat’s ability “to turn it on when the cameras come” after years of experience in politics.
“Eight years as vice president, three decades in the Senate, two debates as vice president and he just came through about a dozen debates in the Democratic primaries where he vanquished two dozen opponents — that’s the Joe Biden we’re expecting,” Murtaugh said.
It’s this type of expectation-setting that some of the president’s allies believe he and his campaign should have engaged in all along, an approach they’re now frustrated to see deployed so close to the Sept. 29 debate in Cleveland. The Trump campaign spent the bulk of this summer questioning whether “Sleepy Joe” is fit for office and accusing the Biden campaign of trying to circumvent the traditional debates to avoid a potentially embarrassing situation for their candidate.
“This idea of Biden not knowing how to debate is ridiculous. The more that expectations are lowered for him the worse,” said former White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
“A lot of folks are looking for a reason to declare him the victor and now they’ll be able to use Trump’s words as a way to justify their verdict that Biden won,” added Spicer, who believes Biden “will land a punch or two” against Trump but doubts either candidate’s performance will affect the race all that much.
Ed Rollins, a veteran GOP strategist who currently runs a pro-Trump super PAC, said the Trump campaign has “so diminished” Biden that he is virtually guaranteed to be perceived as the winner once he and Trump emerge from their first debate. [Continue reading…]