Biden hunkers down, Trump meets with senators for debate prep

While President Biden is expected to hunker down with aides at Camp David to prepare for the first presidential debate, former President Trump is taking a less formal approach.

Rather than holding mock debates, Trump has been meeting with senators to go over policies likely to come up on Thursday in Atlanta and talking through potential topics with aides. He will spend Saturday holding a rally in Philadelphia and appearing at a conservative evangelical convention in Washington.

“I’ve been in the room for debate prep for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020,” former White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News. “He takes this very seriously. But his type of debate prep is just to talk about what you see him talking about. How he’s going to reduce inflation, what he’d do at the border.”

Trump in 2020 said he had a combination of Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani play the role of then-candidate Biden during debate prep sessions.

This time around, Trump is not holding mock debates with an ally playing the role of Biden.

Instead, he is holding what allies describe as policy meetings to go over talking points on topics like immigration, inflation and foreign policy to prepare for what might come up at the CNN-hosted showdown Thursday.

Trump has met with Sens. JD Vance (R-Ohio), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), among others, in recent days as part of those sessions. Vance and Rubio are among those being vetted to serve as Trump’s running mate.

Trump has also huddled with top campaign advisers to discuss how to approach topics like the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which Biden has made central to his reelection argument.

“He doesn’t want to do these sort of fake, theatrical things,” Vance told Bret Baier on Fox News when asked about his role in helping Trump prepare.

“Debate prep is really, I think, at least in my limited experience with him, he’s thinking about how to translate these really, really important topics into a message that works,” Vance added. “And obviously, he’s as good at it as anybody. That’s why he’s leading all the polls.”

But polls have shown a tightening race ahead of the first debate, which will serve as the biggest opportunity for either candidate to make an impression on the public ahead of the party conventions over the next two months.

A recent Fox News national poll found Biden leading Trump by 2 percentage points, and a YouGov/Economist national poll had the two candidates tied. Polling from Emerson College/The Hill had Trump narrowly leading Biden in several key battleground states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

“If Biden is great, the same Democrats that called the State of the Union speech a ‘game changer’ will say the same thing time,” said Doug Heye, a former Capitol Hill aide and RNC spokesperson. “The game didn’t change then and wouldn’t this time either. This is going to be a long season with a lot of games left to play.”

Trump’s campaign has also indicated it views Thursday’s debate as a chance to show the public he is up to the rigors of the job while calling into question whether Biden has the physical and mental sharpness for a second term.

Polls have shown age and cognitive ability are top concerns about both candidates. Trump just turned 78, while Biden will turn 82 in November.

“President Trump takes on numerous tough interviews every single week and delivers lengthy rally speeches while standing, demonstrating elite stamina,” senior Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller said in a statement.

Biden will spend the days before the debate meeting with top advisers, including former chief of staff Ron Klain, to go over policy materials and hone attack lines against Trump. CNN reported Biden will progress to holding 90-minute mock debates.

Biden and his campaign have in recent days escalated their attacks on Trump over his recent felony conviction, and the president is likely to warn that electing Trump would hurt the economy and America’s standing on the world stage.

Republicans have urged Trump to raise expectations for Biden and point out that he is a strong debater capable of performing well on big stages, as he did during his State of the Union speech earlier in the year.

Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted immediately after the second 2020 debate between Trump and Biden found 54 percent of viewers said Biden won the match-up, compared to 39 percent who said Trump did.

But Trump has mostly attacked Biden in the lead up to the debate as incompetent and unaware of his surroundings, and he has suggested the president may do well because he’ll have the aid of some kind of performance enhancing substance.

The former president, perhaps worried he had lowered the bar for Biden too much, struck a different tone during an interview that aired Thursday.

“I assume he’s going to be somebody that will be a worthy debater,” Trump told the “All In” podcast. “I don’t want to underestimate him.”

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