About 100 miles north in Wilmington, Delaware, a similar scene unfolded with Biden and his team, led by Ron Klain, Biden’s longtime aide and debate expert. Biden’s prep has been more traditional – hosting mock debates with veteran Democratic lawyer Bob Bauer playing the role of Trump in at least one session.
For two very different men with opposing temperaments and divergent government philosophies, their goals for debate have one thing in common: to put their adversary on defense and to make it as much as possible a referendum on the other. In conversations with several sources familiar with the preparation of the two candidates, each practices getting under the other’s skin, while avoiding blowing up and exiting the script if the debate becomes personal.
Advisors to both candidates expect one of the night’s biggest lightning moments to be about every man’s children.
Their hope is that this will knock Biden out of his game – either by blowing him up or by saying something incorrect.
Biden’s team worked with him to be prepared for Trump to pursue his son in a way he hadn’t had to deal so directly before. Trump’s advisers also spent time working with the president to stay calm if Biden retaliated by citing Trump’s daughter and son-in-law, both White House aides with no previous government experience. A source familiar with Biden’s prep, however, says his plan is to get away from it, not engage.
Study past performance
Advisors from both review each candidate’s past debate performances to prepare for tonight’s game.
Watch one of Biden’s debates, it’s clear he has some quirks. As he’s been told for decades that he talks too much, he often stops mid-sentence when he sees his time is up. Some advisers say that when debating someone like Trump, if he tries to be polite, it can be seen as weak – and that’s something to be avoided.
“I don’t think he will be polite to someone who is a terrible tyrant. I think he will be strong. I think it will be clear. He should own the stage, right? This character here, who’s a liar and crook, and presided over 200,000 dead, this guy shouldn’t be president. I should be, and here’s why. “Said former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, who prepared Biden for multiple debates. Granholm is a CNN contributor.
She, like other Biden allies, warns that spending too much time checking the president’s facts would be a mistake.
“He can start by saying and acknowledging up front that Donald Trump is a diehard liar and that he will lie during this debate, but he just can’t spend all of his time fighting Donald Trump’s lies when he has to do pass his message. and talk to people about what he’s going to do for them. It’s about them, not Donald Trump, ”Granholm said.
As for the president, some of his advisers say they hope he reigns in his natural tendency to become too personal.
“I would say avoid getting too personal and stick to the issues,” said Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager in 2016.
But, added Conway, “You can question, and I was a strong voice on it, you can question Joe Biden’s presidential readiness, his acuteness, his agility, his stamina, his fairness. availability for work. ”
The Trump team pushed the president to look at key 2016 promises he kept, like renegotiating NAFTA. They also hope – when the question of race arises – that it will pivot to the bipartisan criminal justice reform bill it has enacted.
Conway said the president watched videos of Biden’s previous debates and his own debates against Clinton four years ago.
Trump’s advisers say they think Biden is bewildered when he speaks and presents him with numbers – so they’ve put into practice ways to get the president to incorporate that into Tuesday night’s debate.
A focus on the coronavirus
The way Biden’s advisers see it, a successful first debate will mean the former vice president will be on the Covid-19 offense, the issue that has changed the lives of Americans and the Trump presidency.
“So much revolves around Covid. The economy revolves around Covid. Our position in the world revolves around Covid. The incompetence of this administration revolves around Covid. I mean, if he just points out that if we had done what Japan had done, would 195,000 of those 200,000 dead now be alive? Granholm glimpsed, adding that she hopes Biden adds what she calls her secret sauce – empathy – to her answers on the question.
In preparation for Trump, advisers tell CNN they have been working to give him tools to push back Biden’s broad sides on the pandemic. As when Biden compares the high number of cases in America to other countries, casts doubt on the number of others.
They are also working with Trump to move beyond his benchmarks such as restricting travel from China.
“I would love to see the pivot to things that people might not be as familiar with as the millions and millions of PPE provided. The billions of dollars in PPP loans to small businesses, ”Conway said.
One of the most difficult things to do in preparing a candidate for a political debate is to get them used to the fact that an attack is brewing.
Granholm has been in the room with Biden doing it on several occasions, playing the role of Alaska Housekeeper Sarah Palin, which Biden debated in 2008, and posing as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in the Main Battle of this year.
“You have to find the hardest things and pursue it over and over and over again,” Granholm said.
“You’re ready for it, and it won’t make you emotional. It’s really important, ”she added. .
Conway said that although people outside the room find it hard to imagine Trump taking control to be truly prepared, he understands the importance and “appreciates people who ask him questions.”
“No one wants to hear tough questions for the first time on the debate stage in front of hundreds of millions of people. You want to hear them before that from advisers who know you, who understand the issues, who understand politics and politics, and who have witnessed a number of debates over the years, ”said Conway.