Biden has previously said he can "hardly wait" to debate Trump

By Virginia Chamlee
September 11, 2020 05:01 PM
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Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and President Donald Trump
Scott Eisen/Getty ; Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

In a Thursday fundraiser, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he doesn't want to "take the bait" when debating President Donald Trump, starting with their first face-off on Sept. 29 in Cleveland.

Biden said he expects that Trump is likely to "say awful things about me and my family,” but he hopes to stay away from name-calling.

“I hope I don’t get baited into a brawl with this guy, because that’s the only place he’s comfortable,” Biden, 77, said.

The former vice president has previously said he wants to serve as a "fact-checker" during the three presidential debates, which begin in about two weeks and are seen as some of the last major events to shift the dynamics of the race.

(There will also be a debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris, Biden's running mate, in early October.)

Biden's remarks offer a window into his campaign strategy for the first of the three debates between him and Trump, all to be held in September and October.

At Thursday's event, Biden reiterated that strategy, saying he planned to press the president on policy and facts.

“The place he is most uncomfortable is on the facts," Biden said. "The place he’s most uncomfortable is in the area of what he’s going to do. The place he’s most uncomfortable is knowing the policy. He’s one of the most ill-informed presidents substantively that I’ve ever worked with."

Former Vice President Joe Biden
ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images

The messaging from team Trump, meanwhile, has largely centered on attacks that Biden lacks the mental stamina for a debate (despite his many debates so far this campaign cycle) and that he will be prone to confusion and disorientation.

Alternately, Trump aides have talked up Biden's long career as a politician and a debater, in a kind of contradictory attempt suggesting he may under-perform.

The Trump campaign has also launched a rotating series of attacks on Biden that are likely to shape Trump's approach, including going after his record on China, trade and crime.

Biden has assailed Trump's handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic and race relations and unrest this summer, while Trump said Biden's support of the George Floyd demonstrations show he backs "anarchists."

According to NBC News, Trump, 74, has taken a more "cavalier approach" to the debates this year, declining traditional mock prep and preferring "informal discussions ... [and] briefings."

This is not so unusual: Trump reportedly paid little attention to prep materials before debating Hilary Clinton in 2016 leading up to his razor-thin victory in that election.

Trump's record of debates in 2016 show his characteristic penchant for provocation and insults. In previous appearances, he has said he would have jailed Clinton had he been elected earlier; mocked Sen. Marco Rubio as "little"; and called Sen. Ted Cruz a "maniac."

Trump has already challenged Biden to undergo a drug test before the two men take the debate stage and frequently questioned Biden's cognitive abilities.

"If you go back and watch some of those numerous debates, he was so bad," Trump told the Washington Examiner of Biden in August. "He wasn't even coherent."

President Donald Trump
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"It is a prizefight," Trump told the paper then. "It's no different from the gladiators, except we have to use our brain and our mouth. And our body to stand." (He went on to claim: "I want all standing; they want to sit down.")

Biden said this summer that he looks forward to debating Trump, referencing a 2017 tweet in which Trump called himself “a very stable genius.”

“I can hardly wait to deal with what he refers to himself as a 'stable genius,' " Biden told WBRE radio in July. "I can hardly wait to debate him.”