Report: Trump barely preparing for the debates

Brashly overconfident and unconcerned with the substance of policy?

That doesn’t sound like him.

I’ll say this for him, though. If ever there were a candidate who could afford to (mostly) blow off preparing for a debate, it’s Trump this year. Not because he’s so well-honed that he doesn’t need to study, but rather the opposite. How much studying would it conceivably take for him to appear less … Trumpy?

Even if there were enough hours between now and September 29 for him to pull off that transformation, there’s no reason to think he’d do it. It would contradict his bedrock narcissistic belief that the people love Trump, and thus the Trumpier he is, the more they’ll love him.

Besides, the debates — especially the first one — are the one instance in this entire campaign where voters will shift from treating the election as a referendum on Trump to a referendum on Biden. If Sleepy Joe has a moment that appears to support the GOP hype that he’s a drooling geriatric mushbrain then Trump “wins” the debate no matter what he says. If Biden doesn’t have that moment, Trump “loses.” His only job, really, is to stand onstage and cross his fingers while Biden’s answering questions.

President Donald Trump has not held a single mock debate session, and has no plans to stage a formal practice round, as he readies for his first faceoff with Joe Biden in less than three weeks, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions.

The president has dismissed the typical debate preparations he participated in four years ago, joking to aides and allies that he’s been preparing for debates since he was born. His ability to fire back at an opponent in real time, he’s argued, “isn’t something you have to practice.”…

[Some Trump advisors are] worried that Trump appears to be banking on a Biden misstep in the first 2020 debate; all the three debates are scheduled for 90 minutes each. They said Trump has repeatedly told aides that he’s not worried about debating Biden because the former vice president is likely to have a gaffe moment or stutter. Biden had a severe stutter as a child that he overcame…

Trump’s aides have provided him with details of Biden’s record, including his support for a crime bill in the 1990s and his recent comments on policing. The president also has been advised to point out policy inconsistencies between Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris.

A well-practiced attack on Biden’s long Senate and vice-presidential record is one of the few things Trump could do to help himself at the debate. It’s shocking how little attention he and the GOP have paid to his opponent’s many political liabilities. I’ve heard more about Hunter Biden’s business in Ukraine this year from Republicans than I have about the Biden crime bill, his poor foreign-policy instincts, and so on. It’s possible that Trump is committing those details to memory and planning an offensive, but…

Well, no, it’s not really possible. He’s going to spend most of his time in his comfort zone, insisting that Biden wants to give Antifa the launch codes and “exterminate the suburbs” or however that talking point goes. He’s going to be Trump. Deep down, I doubt he even wants to shift the election from a referendum on him to a choice between two candidates. The lesser-of-two-evils approach worked for him in 2016 but it’d be a giant affront to his ego to accept that he won not because the public admired him but because they despised his opponent just a bit more. He thinks he has a “silent majority” that’s pleased with him and his record. So why bother spending much time talking about Biden’s?

I’m with Tim Miller on this…

…although others make the point that this is a rare opportunity for Trump to exceed voters’ expectations of him:

He can’t not be Trump, though, at least not over a series of debates. There were a few coronavirus briefings this past spring where he sounded prepared and his tone matched the moment. But over time, he’ll always revert to that guy ranting from the podium about the “fake news media” and idly wondering if there’s a way to disinfect the body internally the way we disinfect surfaces. Which makes me wonder: Let’s say, against all expectations, he kills it at the first debate. He pulls off a more or less coherent attack on Biden’s record *and* he’s gifted by Biden suffering some sort of “senior moment” on camera. Would he show up for debates two and three? The standard GOP line is that Biden’s the one looking to back out of the debates, but I think any sign of reluctance by Biden to duck that spotlight will be received by voters as an admission that he’s trying to hide his mental decline. He has to do all three. Whereas if Trump gets what he wants from the first debate, he has every reason to deprive Biden of an opportunity to undo that bad impression at further debates.

That’s the only way to stop him from reverting to Trumpian form. He needs one good night at the first debate, then he walks away. Two solid hours. He can always come up with some lame pretext to skip debates two and three (“I’m too busy fighting COVID,” he might say from the golf course). That prospect should be extra incentive for him to buckle down and prepare like a demon for September 29, knowing that a single gamechanging evening is possibly in reach. But no, evidently, he’s going to wing it. He’s being true to his instincts, I’ll grant him that.

Here’s a clip he retweeted last night to his many millions of Twitter followers, once again helpfully lowering the bar for Biden. His new campaign manager, Bill Stepien, has already pivoted to trying to raise expectations for the Democrat, telling NBC, “He’s a politician. He gives speeches. He’s really good at doing it. He’s also very practiced at it… Joe Biden is not formidable anywhere else but he is formidable on the debate stage.” If Trump were capable of a disciplined debate performance, he’d be capable of joining Stepien in a disciplined effort to pump Biden up before September 29. But here we are. Exit question: Is Jeff Zucker going to offer him advice on how to prepare for this debate too, or was that solely a 2016 thing?

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1303429887592669184