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Trump primes response in case of strong Biden debate showing

Former President Trump and his allies are laying the foundation to dismiss a strong debate performance by President Biden as a charade.

Trump and other conservatives have in recent days floated the baseless claim that if Biden does well at next week’s debate in Atlanta, it will be because he’s using some kind of performance enhancer. 

The claims echo a similar strategy Trump and others used to downplay Biden’s well-received State of the Union speech earlier in the year. They also come as some Republicans worry Biden will defy the caricature that Trump and right-wing media have painted of him as a feeble, confused old man.

“Republicans would be wise to play down expectations,” said one Republican strategist. “Make the point that Biden is a good debater.”

Trump has so far declined to make that case. Instead, he’s fluctuated between claims that Biden is feeble and incompetent and preemptively trying to create a narrative that if Biden does well, it’s because he had the help of some unnamed, mysterious substance. 

“He’s gonna be so pumped up. He’s gonna be pumped up,” Trump told supporters at a Wisconsin rally on Tuesday.

In response to questions about Trump’s debate prep, senior campaign adviser Jason Miller similarly implied Biden would be using some kind of substance during the debate.

“President Trump takes on numerous tough interviews every single week and delivers lengthy rally speeches while standing, demonstrating elite stamina,” Miller said in a statement. “He does not need to be programmed by staff or shot up with chemicals like Joe Biden does.”

Fox News host Sean Hannity, who is also friends with Trump, floated during his show earlier this month that Trump might consider skipping the June 27 debate and suggested Biden would be aided by Red Bull, caffeine pills or something else.

“Whatever Joe drank, ate, took before the State of the Union — maybe it was just Red Bull and caffeine pills. I don’t know. Whatever it was, that was not the normal Joe,” Hannity said. “We never saw it before, and we haven’t seen it since. But we will see it for the debate.”

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the claims from Trump and his allies.

But at the same time Trump has sought to set the narrative around a strong Biden performance, he has also repeatedly lowered the bar for his opponent.

At his Wisconsin rally alone, Trump referred to Biden as “incompetent,” “weak,” “failing” and said he “has no clue” and “doesn’t know where he is.” Trump has previously claimed Biden “doesn’t know he’s alive.” He quipped at one point that he’d also be debating moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, meaning he’d be facing “three people instead of one half of a person.”

Republicans have in recent days shared videos of Biden, some of them deceptively edited or cropped, and claimed the footage shows Biden freezing up or wandering off.

The White House has sharply pushed back on those videos, calling them “cheap fakes,” and arguing Republicans are pushing misleading claims about Biden’s competence because they can’t argue with the president’s legislative record.

The Biden campaign on Thursday posted a two-minute montage of footage from Trump’s presidency in which Trump walked away from world leaders or a bill signing too soon or walked off in the wrong direction.

While Republicans routinely question Biden’s sharpness and stamina, the president has shown throughout his first term in office he is capable of delivering strong, energetic speeches in big moments. 

His last two State of the Union speeches have been well received, including in 2023 when he essentially baited Republicans in the audience into agreeing that cuts to Medicare and Social Security should be off the table.

Biden delivered a clear, energetic speech earlier this year on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol in which he warned of the threat Trump poses to democracy, effectively kicking off his reelection bid.

“It’s a big moment for both, but the stakes are much higher for Biden,” said Doug Heye, a former Capitol Hill aide and Republican National Committee (RNC) spokesperson. “Given the legitimate questions about his age and how he is sometimes hard to hear, he can ill afford to cement that in voters’ minds — especially the double haters. A really bad slip-up could mean that Democrats say publicly what they’ve been saying privately about their concerns about Biden.”

Source: The Hill

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