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Biden and Trump will face off in next week's debate. They prepare very differently

Biden and Trump will face off in next week's debate.  They prepare very differently
Biden and Trump will face off in next week's debate.  They prepare very differently

 


NEW YORK (AP) President Joe Biden begins an intense period of private preparations Friday at Camp David for what could be the most consequential presidential debate in decades.

The 81-year-old's Democratic team is aware that he cannot afford a disappointing performance when he faces Republican rival Donald Trump for 90 minutes on live television on June 27. Biden's team expects aggressive attacks on his physical and mental strength, his economic record and immigration and even his family.

READ MORE: RFK Jr. fails to qualify for CNN debate, setting up showdown between Biden and Trump

Trump, 78 and still confident, will remain on the campaign trail before traveling to his Florida estate next week for two days of private meetings as part of an informal preparation process.

The ex-president's allies are pushing him to stay focused on his governing plans, but expect him to be tested by pointed questions about his relentless focus on election fraud, his role in the erosion of the right to abortion and its unprecedented legal baggage.

The debate on CNN will be full of firsts, likely to reshape the presidential race. Never before in the modern era have two presumptive candidates met on the debate stage so early in the general election season. Never before have two White House candidates faced off at such advanced ages, with many questions about their preparedness.

And never before has a participant in a general election debate been convicted of a crime. The debate meeting comes just two weeks before Trump is scheduled to be convicted on 34 counts in his secret trial in New York.

“Arguably this will be the most important debate, at least in my lifetime,” said Democratic strategist Jim Messina, 54, who managed President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign.

Pressure on Biden

The ground rules for the June 27 debate, the first of two planned meetings, are unusual.

The candidates agreed to meet in a CNN studio in Atlanta, without an audience. Each candidate's microphone will be muted, except when it is their turn to speak. No props or pre-written notes will be allowed on stage. Applicants will only receive a pen, a pad of paper and a bottle of water.

There will be no opening statements. A coin toss determined that Biden would stand at the podium to the viewer's right, while Trump delivered the closing statement.

The next debate will not take place until September. Any missteps from June 27 will be difficult to erase or replace quickly.

Biden arrived at Camp David Thursday evening and is expected to sit with his top campaign aides until the debate. As he drove to the mountainside retreat, he greeted reporters when asked how preparation for the debate was going.

The president's aides have been reluctant to share details about his preparations, led by former chief of staff Ron Klain. But they signaled that he was preparing to be aggressive and would not hesitate to use the term “convicted felon” to describe his opponent.

WATCH: Capehart and Johnson on how the Biden-Trump debates could shape the election season

An adviser not authorized to speak publicly about debate strategy noted that Biden has been increasingly forceful in his recent remarks about Trump and plans to carry that theme into the debate. And this, while trying to present himself as “a wise and stable leader” unlike Trump, the adviser said.

Some political players feel Biden may have more to lose given his struggle to generate momentum amid signs of weakness within his political coalition. However, Trump and his allies have set the bar extremely low by suggesting that Biden has struggled for months with severe physical limitations that prevent him from standing for 90 minutes or stringing two sentences together.

“It’s like the mirror test. Put a mirror under Biden's nose, and if he fogs up, he wins, right? That’s about the threshold for Biden,” Republican strategist and Trump ally David Urban said with a laugh. “Can Biden demonstrate that he is mentally agile? That's the big question.

Still, Trump sought to shift expectations in an interview Thursday with “The All-In Podcast” in which he moved sharply away from his typical taunts of Biden. He said Biden “destroyed” vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan during their 2012 debate.

“I suspect he will be someone who will be a worthy debater,” Trump said of Biden. “I don’t want to underestimate him.”

Biden aides have dismissed concerns about his age and mental preparation. They are fighting what they claim is a misleading montage of video clips suggesting he is confused.

But while some Democrats project confidence, Biden's allies also say he has spent much of the past two weeks traveling in Europe and the West Coast, limiting his preparedness. Others note that incumbent presidents typically face difficulties during the opening debate of the general election season.

Messina made both of these arguments even as he sought to raise the political stakes for Trump. He suggested that Trump was taking an unnecessary political risk by debating Biden, given Trump's early advantage in many polls.

“I wouldn’t have been in the debate if I were him,” Messina said of Trump. “If you're tied or a little ahead of the incumbent, why would you want to make him look like that? He decided he wanted to do this to knock her out, and if he doesn't do it, then I think he's in serious trouble.

Trump projects confidence

Trump's team sees the faceoff as an opportunity to demonstrate a clear contrast to Biden's leadership ability and record of governing.

And while downplaying his preparations, Trump aides tend to insist that he doesn't prepare for the debates when, in fact, he's doing it his way. Instead of mock debates with desks and stand-ins or hours spent poring over policy books, the ex-president should rely on a series of conversations about policy and strategy with his aides and allies policies.

Trump will also make public appearances in the coming days.

On Saturday, he is scheduled to hold a rally in Philadelphia and deliver a speech at a conference of Christian conservatives in Washington. He's also holding a fundraiser in New Orleans on Monday before heading to his Florida estate for meetings.

“Biden needs rehearsals with his officials to find a way to explain the mess he has caused our nation,” Trump spokesman Brian Hughes said. “President Trump is still ready to present to Americans his record of successes as well as Biden’s weaknesses and failures.”

The Biden camp is aware that Trump will likely focus on his son Hunter, as the then-president did during the debate four years ago. Hunter Biden was recently convicted of three counts related to purchasing a gun while allegedly addicted to drugs. Republicans also criticized Hunter Biden's foreign business dealings when Joe Biden was vice president.

Biden's allies are also worried, but their famously combative rival might be on his best behavior.

“For both campaigns, the goal here is to reach an audience of moderate, independent and swing voters in swing states who will, in many ways, be the deciding factor in this election,” said Bill Russo, former official of the Biden administration.

“Trump has kind of a golden opportunity here. If he can pretend he's a reasonable human being for 90 minutes while he's in the spotlight, he has a lot to gain,” Russo added. “The real key here is which Trump is running for.”

Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price and Jill Colvin in New York and Seung Min Kim, Zeke Miller and Will Weissert in Washington contributed.

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