Senate Democrats baffled by Trump lowering Biden debate expectations

Senate Democrats are questioning the move by former President Trump and his allies to put President Biden’s debate expectations near the floor ahead of the pair’s first meeting of this campaign Thursday in Atlanta.

Democrats are surprised that Republicans seem to be repeating the same move that backfired ahead of the first debate in 2020 between the two, when Trump’s constant interruptions colored the event.

That’s left Democrats hopeful they’ll see a repeat of the State of the Union, when Biden delivered a fiery address after months of talk about the president’s mental acuity.

“They talked down Biden before it, then he does fine — and fine looks fantastic after you’ve talked the guy down. And I think they’re doing the same thing now,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said. “My gut tells me he’s probably going to do fine, and because they’ve been spending all this time talking him down and creating fake videos about him that make him look confused, and he’ll do fine and I think that that will work to his advantage.”

“They should be lowering expectations for Trump rather than lowering expectations for Biden,” he continued. “I can’t exactly figure out why they’re doing that, but it’ll probably work to Biden’s advantage.”

Trump months ago said Biden was the “the WORST debater I have ever faced,” and last week in Wisconsin called him “weak, failed and incompetent.” Over the weekend, Trump suggested Biden was at Camp David “sleeping … because they want to get him good and strong.”

Many Republicans had been echoing those talking points, some even pushing claims the president would need to take drugs to physically and mentally persevere through the 90-minute debate.

But in recent days, Trump’s campaign advisers and top allies have sought to recast expectations.

Senior Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller told reporters Biden “has been doing this successfully for 50 years.”

“We know that Joe Biden — after taking an entire week off, he’s going to be ready for this,” Miller said. “I don’t know if it’s quite going to be at the level of Steve Rogers walking in and turning into Captain America, but his team is going to have him ready just as they have in 2008, 2012, 2024.”

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R), a top contender to become Trump’s running mate, also pointed to Biden’s myriad runs for higher office and lengthy career in office.

“This guy has got the ability,” he said Sunday.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats agree with that assessment.

“They’re trying to make it seem like the president doesn’t have command of the job, when those of us who are working with him [know] he definitely does. I think that’s going to show Thursday night,” Kaine said. “He’s done this a lot.”

Some Senate Democrats are also pointing to another Trump talking point leading up to the CNN-hosted event: that the event is unfair and that Trump is not only facing off with Biden but also the moderators.

A Trump spokesperson argued this week that Trump is facing a “three-to-one” fight.

“They want to claim this is a rigged debate against Donald Trump,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who helped Biden with vice presidential debate prep in 2012 against then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “So obviously they have some concerns.”

Most Democrats have a simple ask of Biden when he faces Trump once again: draw the sharpest contrast possible.

“President Biden will remind the American people why [Trump’s] not qualified to be president and we’re going to hear that contrast with the incredible work that President Biden has been doing,” said Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.). “It’s going to be crystal clear.”

They also believe the timing is important. Thursday’s will be the earliest televised presidential debate in history, meaning many voters will be turning their attention to the race for the first time.

For them, it’s a moment to raise the stakes.

“The main goal I want to see for President Biden is drawing that very strong contrast between what he’s done for America, what he offers America and what Donald Trump has done to bring this country backwards and what to expect from another Trump presidency,” Van Hollen said.

“[Trump’s] telling us every day, but it’s important that it be revealed clearly that Donald Trump is a revenge candidate, doesn’t have a positive agenda but wants to overthrow our democracy and drive our country backwards,” he added.

Others were more curt in their assessment.

“A contrast to the major MAGA loon who will be on stage with him,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said about what he wants to see in the debate, adding that he hopes Biden shows “a little spunk.”

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