As the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden looms, Republican insiders are worried that Trump's attacks on the former vice president will come back to haunt him after the president and his campaign spent months portraying Biden as decrepit and not up to the job of leading the country.
According to a report from the New York Times, the Trump campaign's history of posting highly-edited videos on social media of Biden appearing to fall asleep or forget his words are about to blow up on Trump's team when Biden takes the stage and goes one-on-one with the president.
With that in mind, conservative campaign analysts are worried that Trump's people have lowered the bar for Biden so even a moderate debate win will stand in stark contrast to what the president's followers were expecting to see.
"The misleading notion that Mr. Biden is too addled for the presidency has been driven by Mr. Trump since 2018, when he first started referring to the former vice president as Sleepy Joe. Since then, in speeches, in interviews and at his rallies, Mr. Trump has been crafting a narrative depicting the former vice president as having a diminished physical and mental stature, in the hope of making voters believe that Mr. Biden is unfit for office," the report states. "It is a message that Mr. Trump’s campaign has spent millions of dollars amplifying, often in misleading, spliced-together clips contrasting an energetic Mr. Biden from the past with a supposedly barely functioning one now."
According to GOP operative and debate coach Brett O’Donnell, "In trying to message that Biden may be unfit for office, the campaign also may have lowered expectations on his debate performance."
It's not as if Trump wasn't cautioned he was setting a trap for himself.
"The president’s advisers began warning Mr. Trump months ago that the former vice president had successfully handled a lengthy, one-on-one debate with Senator Bernie Sanders in March toward the end of their primary fight. Outside advisers warned Mr. Trump that he needed to change the way he was playing the expectations game with Mr. Biden," the Times reports before noting the president has changed his tune recently by praising Biden as a debater.
However, that may be too little, too late.
Karl Rove, who served as President George W. Bush’s chief strategist, said the Trump likely gave Biden an "unintentional gift." before holding out some hope.
“What I’m seeing in these battleground Senate polls is that people know that Joe Biden was Obama’s vice president, and that he’s been around for a long time. They don’t really know the guy,” he said. “The Biden voter is simply an anti-Trump voter. What if he fails to make this about what he’s for and what he’s about?”
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