HomePoliticsFor Biden and Trump, a debate rematch with even greater risks and...

For Biden and Trump, a debate rematch with even greater risks and rewards

The debate between chairman Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump This week will be the highest-stakes moment of their rematch, pitting two presidents in an extraordinarily early showdown before a divided and angry nation.

For Biden, the debate in Atlanta offers a chance to remind voters of the chaos of his predecessor’s leadership and criminal convictions, and to warn of an even darker future if Trump wins a second term. For Trump, it is an opportunity to make it clear that America has become more expensive, weaker and more dangerous under his successor.

But Thursday’s showdown also poses significant risks for the two men — both the oldest candidates to ever enter a presidential race — who have been embroiled in a contentious rivalry defined by mutual hatred for more than four years. That hostility increases the unpredictability of the evening. A notable misstep – a physical stumble, a mental error or a barrage of overly personal insults – could reverberate for months because of the unusually long period until their second debate in September.

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“This is a big turning point,” said Karl Rove, a leading Republican strategist who oversaw George W. Bush’s two successful presidential campaigns. “Can Biden be consistently persuasive, making people say, ‘Well, maybe the old man is ready?’ And will Trump hold back enough that people say, “You know what? It’s really about us, not about him.’”

This presidential debate will be the earliest in the country’s history and differ significantly from the debates many Americans are familiar with. The broadcast is hosted by CNN rather than a nonpartisan committee and simulcast on more than five networks, with no live audience and no opening statements. Each candidate will be given two minutes to answer questions, followed by one-minute rebuttals and responses to the rebuttals, and their microphones will be muted when it is not their turn to speak.

The two men approach their preparation in strikingly different ways. Biden hunkered down with his aides at Camp David for formal debate sessions, with Trump’s role expected to be played by Bob Bauer, the president’s personal lawyer. The former president is taking a looser approach, but participating in more “policy sessions” than he held in 2020.

Trump’s advisers hope the former president will keep his focus on the issues widely seen as Biden’s biggest vulnerabilities — inflation and immigration — and not be drawn into discussions about his false claims about a stolen 2020 election and a justice system which he believes is rigged against him.

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Biden’s team sees an opportunity to get Democratic and independent voters, and even some moderate Republicans, to think about how much more radical a second Trump administration could be than the first. Yet they are also preparing for Trump to deliver a more disciplined performance than in the first debate of 2020, when he had a chaotic display that was compared to a “dumpster fire.”

“This debate is an opportunity to show the American people what those of us who professionally watch Donald Trump all day see, namely that he is even more unhinged, more dangerous, out for revenge, and all that that conjures up, those interests directly with the American people is a net positive for us,” said Rob Flaherty, deputy campaign manager for Biden.

For his part, Trump is preparing to answer questions about threats to American democracy and his promise to forgive rioters involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. He has told colleagues he will emphasize looking at the Jan. 6 pardons on a case-by-case basis and distinguishing between those who committed violence and those who did not.

After months of doubting Biden’s ability to get through a 90-minute debate, let alone perform at a top level, Trump has pivoted in an attempt to set higher expectations.

“I don’t want to underestimate him,” Trump said recently in a podcast. He referred back 12 years to Biden’s 2012 vice presidential debate to praise the president’s skills. “He beat Paul Ryan, so I don’t underestimate him,” Trump said.

Steven Cheung, Trump’s communications director, accused the media of creating low expectations of the president.

“The real measure of Thursday’s debate should be whether or not Joe Biden can defend his disastrous record on inflation and the out-of-control border invasion against President Trump’s undoubted first-term success” , Cheung said.

The event will mark the first time American voters have seen Biden and Trump in a direct exchange since October 2020, when they met for the final debate of their final race. It’s also the first time they’ve been in the same room since then.

A lot has changed in the meantime. The country has experienced a pandemic, an uncertain economy, a siege on the Capitol and the fall of federal abortion rights, and has become embroiled in two bloody global conflicts. Trump is now a felon, convicted of 34 counts by a jury in New York. And Biden has become an unpopular president, facing deep opposition not just from Republicans but from his party’s base.

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And yet polls show little movement between Trump and Biden. Both men are deeply disliked by large parts of the country and are locked in a close race, although Trump was largely narrowly ahead in national polls earlier this year.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a close Biden ally, described the debate as a potentially “pivotal moment” for the president’s trajectory in the race.

“He’s starting to move the needle,” Clyburn said, pointing to recent national polls showing a slight increase for the president. “This debate could very well be important about whether or not we continue that momentum, or whether or not it runs into a problem.”

Almost no one — including some of Biden’s top strategists — expects the debate to immediately spark a race between two clearly defined candidates. Biden aides view the debate as the starting bell for the general election, an event that will provide a high-profile opportunity to set the terrain of the contest. They successfully tried to move the debate months earlier to get the public to pay more attention.

“This is going to be a long, close race,” said Molly Murphy, a pollster for the Biden campaign. “Message discipline, perseverance and being in front of the voters at all times will be the most important thing in the end.”

Both candidates are, in their own ways, incumbents. Yet the debate reverses their 2020 position. Four years ago, it was Trump who was forced to defend his record amid a raging pandemic. Now it is Biden who will face attacks for his stewardship of an economy that, while strong by some measures, is characterized for many voters by high prices and a tight housing market.

Trump is particularly focused on a trifecta of developments that he says portray his administration in a more favorable light: higher inflation, America’s entanglement in two new foreign wars and an increase in border crossings since he left office. Trump regularly blames Biden’s border policies for domestic crimes.

Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., who is running for re-election in one of the most competitive districts in the country, said such a focused contrast could be to Trump’s advantage. Voters in his Tucson-area district, he said, can easily compare what their lives were like during those two four-year periods.

“You can ignore the news, but you can’t rule out not being able to afford groceries,” Ciscomani said. “From the border to inflation, people feel they are worse off today than they were three or four years ago.”

Biden’s aides say the president plans to highlight some of the more divisive proposals the former president and those close to him have embraced, including the possibility of deporting millions of immigrants living in the country without legal permission and a impose a new 10% tax on imports. , to paint a bleak picture of what could happen if Trump were re-elected.

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As Democrats have been doing for months, Biden plans to portray Trump as a threat to what they see as basic American freedoms, such as abortion and voting rights. They plan to combine these attacks with an economic argument that Trump would choose big corporations and billionaires over helping the average American. In recent days, Biden has signaled a willingness to tie his economic arguments to Trump’s criminal record, portraying the race in one ad as a choice “between a convicted criminal who is only out for himself and a president who will look out for your family.” fight’.

Biden also wants to blame Trump for the fall of Roe v. Wade, which the former president helped usher in with his Supreme Court appointments. Four years ago, Biden warned voters that Roe was on the ballot — an accusation that Trump dismissed in their first debate, saying, “Why is it on the ballot? It’s not on the ballot.”

Trump is unlikely to sidestep the issue so easily this year, after nearly two years of steady drumbeats not only of abortion bans but also of conservative Christian efforts to restrict in vitro fertilization and other widely popular procedures. Trump has consulted with Kellyanne Conway, his former aide who spent decades sounding out on the issue, and is likely to reiterate the position he recently embraced: abortion should be left to the states to decide.

Democrats have signaled that Biden will push back, saying Trump would go further if he regains the White House by imposing new federal restrictions on abortion access.

Gail Gitcho, a Republican strategist, argued that rhetorical clashes on stage could matter less than usual given voters’ experiences under both the Biden and Trump administrations.

“What voters are considering is: What was my life like under President Trump, and what is my life like under President Biden?” she said. “They are choosing between presidencies or personalities – and it is more likely that they are choosing between presidencies.”

c.2024 The New York Times Company

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