Show an ad over header. AMP

How Trump, Biden plan to score at Tuesday's debate

President Trump has been practicing with flashcards and prepping with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before Tuesday's presidential debate

Behind the scenes: Top aides tell Axios he's been testing his attacks on the campaign trail for weeks, seeing what ignites his crowds or falls flat. One of the biggest themes Trump plans to drive home is his "tough guy" persona, which advisers see as an advantage with voters in key states.


Joe Biden has blocked off full days for mock debate sessions ahead of the Tuesday debate in Cleveland.

  • Expect a big emphasis from Biden on the sad milestone the U.S. passed last week — the 200,000th U.S. death from COVID.
  • While Biden plans to challenge Trump on any falsehoods, advisers say he won't spend the whole debate playing fact-checker.

Trump's team sees Judge Amy Coney Barrett as a vehicle to bait Biden into turning off centrist voters — if the president can goad Biden into attacking her.

  • That's something Biden advisers have already said they plan to avoid.
  • But Trump's team notes during past Democratic debates, Biden lost his temper.

Biden will counter Trump on the Supreme Court by focusing on how a 6-3 conservative court could be disastrous for the Affordable Care Act.

  • Biden has had several long weekend sessions and some shorter weekday rounds.
  • The informal practice sessions included staff peppering him with questions and massaging his answers.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tells Axios it's important for Biden not to "demoralize" the base with a swipe at progressives:

  • "We're working really hard to try to turn out young people, and it's just not helpful to decry people like myself or Bernie Sanders."

Between the lines: Here's what keepsthe strategists up at night ...

For Trump:

Overconfidence. Many people close to the president say they're worried he hasn't taken the debates seriously or prepared enough.

  • "Presidents typically lose the first debate to a challenger," top Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tells Axios.
  • Trump sees Bidenas someone he can bulldoze. But Trump's team has warned him that Biden is a seasoned politician.

Policy. One of Trump's big misses of the summer was his failure to lay out what his second-term agenda would look like. He did that during his convention speech, but this time he won't have a prewritten speech or teleprompter to rely on.

  • Trump has always struggled with policy debates, instead preferring to ramble and generalize. But Fox News moderator Chris Wallace is a seasoned Trump interviewer, and he knows how to force Trump to be direct.

Attacks on the moderator. Many Republicans still shudder at the memory of Trump's vicious attacks on Megyn Kelly, then of Fox News — something that stuck with viewers for months.

Downplaying the coronavirus. Trump's team recognizes that the president's biggest weakness is his handling of the coronavirus and the casual way in which he has seemingly minimized the number of people who have died.

  • This is the areain which they have tried to prep him the most. But Trump's refusal to admit he's done anything but a fantastic job presents a real problem.

For Biden:

Gaffes. Confidants believe the main risk for Biden is misspeaking, transposing numbers or seeming to lose his train of thought.

  • If Biden does have a verbal misstep, their plan is to compare it to whatever mistakes Trump makes.

Temper. In some of his interactions with voters on the trail, Biden has shown flashes of anger.

  • His challenge will be responding to Trump forcefully, without losing his cool.

Verbosity. Biden, who overcame stuttering as a child, well knows — and frequently chides himself — for going too long.

  • He also tends to take detours on his way to the point he is trying to make.
  • He's also a creatureof decades spent in the Senate, and some of his parliamentary verbiage is better understood in the cloakroom than in American living rooms.
  • He has seemed to meander in the past by mentioning old colleagues and mentors, like in a CNN town hall when he name-checked the late Sens. Mike Mansfield and Ted Kennedy.

Deference to the moderator — something Biden did during primary debates.

  • The danger is inadvertently ceding ground to Trump.

Taking the bait. Trump's preferred ways of getting under Biden's skin include suggesting he's lost a mental step because of his age (Biden is 77; Trump is 74) or going after Biden's son, Hunter. 

Go deeper ... Debate commission co-chair: We don't expect moderators to fact-check candidates

The questions the COVID-19 vaccine trials still need to answer

COVID-19 vaccines are being developed at record speed, but some experts fear the accelerated regulatory process could interfere with ongoing research about the vaccines.

Why it matters: Even after the first COVID-19 vaccines are deployed, scientific questions will remain about how they are working and how to improve them.

Keep reading... Show less

Podcast: Behind the Faces of COVID

America yesterday lost 2,762 people to COVID-19, per the CDC, bringing the total pandemic toll to 272,525. That's more than the population of Des Moines, Iowa. Or Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Or Toledo, Ohio.

Axios Re:Cap speaks with Alex Goldstein, creator of the @FacesofCOVID Twitter account, about sharing the stories behind the statistics.

WSJ: Pfizer to ship half as many COVID vaccines this year, citing supply chain issues

Pfizer and BioNTech have halved their original estimate for how many coronavirus vaccines will be shipped globally by the end of this year, citing supply-chain issues, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The U.K. government has ordered 40 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine — enough to inoculate some 20 million people. The companies now expect to ship 50 million vaccines by the end of 2020, instead of 100 million, per WSJ.

Keep reading... Show less

Warner Bros. to release all 2021 movies on HBO Max and in theaters at same time

In a move that will undoubtedly shape the future of cinema for years to come, Warner Bros. said Thursday that it will release its entire 2021 film slate on HBO Max, the streaming service owned by its parent AT&T, at the same time that the films debut in theaters.

Why it matters: It's the latest and most aggressive effort by a movie studio to get its titles in front of audiences at home during the pandemic. The move is a major blow to movie exhibitors, which are already struggling to survive the pandemic.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump refuses to say whether he has confidence in Barr

President Trump declined to say on Thursday whether he still has confidence in Attorney General Bill Barr, after insisting that Barr "hasn't done anything" to investigate his unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud.

Why it matters: Trump has weighed firing Barr in recent days, seething about the attorney general's statement this week that the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the election.

Keep reading... Show less

Biden taps Brian Deese to lead National Economic Council

President-elect Joe Biden announced Thursday that he has selected Brian Deese, a former Obama climate aide and head of sustainable investing at BlackRock, to serve as director of the National Economic Council.

Why it matters: The influential position does not require Senate confirmation, but Deese's time working for BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager and an investor in fossil fuels, has made him a target of criticism from progressives.

Keep reading... Show less

How institutions that control vast wealth fall through U.S. regulatory cracks

Financial regulation is not exactly simple anywhere in the world. But one country stands out for the sheer amount of complexity and confusion in its regulatory regime — the U.S.

Why it matters: Important companies fall through the cracks, largely unregulated, while others contend with a vast array of regulatory bodies, none of which are remotely predictable.

Keep reading... Show less

Trump nominee Christopher Waller confirmed to Fed board

The Senate voted 48-47 on Thursday to confirm Trump nominee Christopher Waller to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors — filling one of the two vacant slots on the influential economic body.

Why it matters: It's one of the last marks left on the Fed board by Trump, who has nominated five of its six members.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories