Inside Biden's Debate Prep: 16 Advisers and Practicing Standing Up

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

President Biden is hunkered down at Camp David. He is taking a week off for debate preparation. 

It isn't unusual for a president to take some time off as the time grows near for a debate. Presidents get rusty during their time in office and Biden is not used to being challenged on policy decisions or opinions. He stays cocooned in the White House or at one of his mansions in Delaware, away from the press corps. He rarely gives interviews. 


It is reported that there are 16 aides with Biden, working as advisers in preparing for the debate. 16. That seems like a lot. Camp David is turning into a television production set.

At Camp David, a movie theater and an airplane hangar have been outfitted with lights and production equipment to create a mock debate stage. At least 16 current and former aides, summoned from Washington and Wilmington, whiz back and forth on golf carts to join President Biden in strategy sessions.

That's ok. Former President Trump knows a thing or two about television and being on a stage. 

Ron Klain is managing the debate preparations. He helped Obama after Obama's terrible performance during the first debate against Mitt Romney in 2012. The goal is to position Biden as the president running for re-election and as a fighter who can counterpunch on the fly. 

That's a heavy lift, even for a seasoned Washington insider like Klain. Biden can no longer speak on the fly or off the cuff in public. He relies on a teleprompter and notecards prepared by his staff. He won't be allowed to have notecards during the debate. He's going to have to wing it and that puts him in unfamiliar territory. 

Trump, in contrast, wings it all the time. He can stand and talk to reporters for as long as they have questions. Speaking of standing, part of Biden's debate prep is practicing standing for 90 minutes as he will have to do on Thursday night. We just watched Biden at the G7 in Italy and in France to commemorate D-Day. He didn't show a lot of physical stamina during those trips. 


Biden's surrogates insist that Biden is 'sharp' and doing well as he prepares to face off against Trump. 

“The rust factor is real,” said David Axelrod, a former top strategist to Mr. Obama. “Neither of these guys is accustomed to having someone a few feet away, grilling them with no deference.”

According to people familiar with the planning at Camp David who were not authorized to speak publicly about it, the work days vary in length and are not rigidly structured. Mr. Biden and his most trusted advisers work on what they think would be best to refine or practice in the moment.

Team Biden hopes he will remain focused on arguing about policies and also striking out about Trump's character. Biden is preparing to provide a contrast between his policies and those of Trump. That's bold. Biden's policies have been disasters. Trump's provided an environment for all voter demographics to do well. Life in Trump's America was a roaring success pre-pandemic compared to the last 3 1/2 years in Biden's America. 

Biden's campaign thinks it will be a chance for him to go on the offense on issues like immigration and abortion. Biden has thrown fuel on the fire in recent days, though, with his blanket amnesty plan for more than 550,000 illegal aliens while the southern border remains wide open. Criminal aliens are killing and raping innocent children and women. Does Biden have it in him to admit that he has made horrible mistakes since day one when he stopped the programs and policies that secured the border during Trump's administration? Biden and his people are tone-deaf. Immigration and border security is a top election issue. Joe Biden and DHS Secretary Mayorkas have blood on their hands. 


Bob Bauer (husband of Mao fan Anita Dunn) is Biden's attorney. He played the role of Trump in 2020 debate preparations and is doing so again at Camp David. 

In his book, “The Unraveling,” Mr. Bauer said he studied hours of tapes of Mr. Trump as a businessman, candidate and president before the 2020 debates. He wrote that he did not try to portray a “Saturday Night Live” version of Mr. Trump, with makeup and costumes. Instead, he wrote, “I used as much of the language he did on the topics that would come up in a debate.”

The usual suspects are with Biden at Camp David. 

Mr. Biden’s Camp David prep team includes Mr. Klain and Mike Donilon, who is the architect of the campaign’s theme that democracy is at stake if Mr. Trump wins. Steve Ricchetti, a counselor to the president who manages relationships on Capitol Hill, is also scheduled to be there, as is Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser.

Jeffrey D. Zients, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, is expected to be there, as are aides focused on communications strategy, including Anita Dunn and Ben LaBolt, the White House communications director.

Several Biden campaign aides, including Jen O’Malley Dillon, Cedric Richmond, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Quentin Fulks, Michael Tyler and Rob Flaherty, are also on the list of attendees.

Some are returning to the fold just long enough to help Mr. Biden prepare: Brian Deese, who left the administration as director of the National Economic Council in 2023, is expected to visit Camp David to help Mr. Biden refine his pitch that the American economy is recovering.


Good luck with that crew. They all played roles in taking our country over a cliff during the Biden administration. We'll see what sage advice they offer to Biden and if he remembers any of it on Thursday night during the debate. 

One CNN panelist on Sunday said Biden needs to smile more. That's the ticket. The real question is which Biden will show up? Will it be the angry old man so amped up on something or the other that he yells for 90 minutes as he did during the State of the Union address? Or will it be the dazed and confused Biden who mumbles and bumbles through an event? Will it be Old Yeller or Sleepy Joe? We'll find out on Thursday night.


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