The leadoff debate slugfest between President Trump and Joe Biden may come down to expectations — and how far the media and voters lower the bar for Biden.
With polls showing Biden ahead of Trump nationally, the former vice president has the most to lose on Tuesday night — no matter what the Biden spin machine and national media are peddling.
The 77-year-old, gaffe-prone Biden fell short and occasionally slipped badly in nearly all of the Democratic debates during the primary season — especially when he was under fire.
So Trump should hit Biden hard and try to get him unglued — exploit his occasional confusion. The president may only have this one chance of taking down the former vice president, who would love an excuse to dodge the other two debates. Trump needs to act like this is his last remaining chance to catch Biden in the polls.
The president will be on the defensive for part of the debate, thanks to the bombshell reporting on his tax returns — which the New York Times and Biden campaign obviously timed to have the most impact before the debate.
And if Biden performs unexpectedly strong in the 90-minute encounter in Cleveland, he’ll be declared the easy victor.
But how will voters react if Biden lapses into nonsensical phrasing or looks like he needs a long nap?
My guess is the majority of voters are willing to cut the likeable Biden a break — but only to a point.
A few misspoken words? That’s OK. But badly bungling answers or failing to stand up for his record could trigger serious questions about Biden’s capacity to lead the country — despite the Democrats’ attempts to downplay the significance of the debate.
Trump’s biggest potential problems are overconfidence and the length of time it’s been since he’s had a real debate.
The president’s last debate showdown was four years ago with then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. He was widely declared the loser by the national media, yet ended up winning the election.
Trump campaign officials have been trying to prepare the president by granting high-profile interviews to network TV and putting him in front of live audiences.
But Trump has stubbornly refused to prepare for the debate the traditional way — by studying the issues and debating a Biden stand-in during mock debate sessions.
The last incumbent president who came into the debates overconfident and ill-prepared was Barack Obama, who in 2012 gave a shockingly poor performance against GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
Obama looked like he couldn’t be bothered to defend his record, allowing the former Massachusetts governor to be the aggressor.
If Trump falls into the same trap, and is constantly on the defensive, it will be a long night for him and his campaign.
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