The Memo: Trump allies have hope, urge new approach in crucial last debate

The Memo: Trump allies have hope, urge new approach in crucial last debate
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE has one more shot to turn around the election campaign on Thursday. His allies insist he can do it — if he focuses.

Even within Trump World there is a recognition that the final presidential debate, to be held in Nashville, Tenn., needs to go better than his first clash with his Democratic opponent Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  New DOJ rule could allow executions by electrocution, firing squad MORE, held more than three weeks ago in Cleveland.

Several sources in the president’s orbit emphasized he cannot afford a repeat of the first debate, when his interruptions of Biden and the event’s moderator, Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceBiden adviser: 'He does not have any concern' about Trump lawsuits Public health expert: Americans no longer acting 'with common purpose' on pandemic Anti-Defamation League criticizes White House appointee 'who has consorted with racists' MORE of Fox News, overshadowed any favorable points of contrast the president might have made.


One person familiar with the president’s debate strategy said that Trump would this time “make sure the American people understand the difference between freedom and prosperity, and the socialist agenda of Joe Biden and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisKamala Harris calls nurse on Thanksgiving to express gratitude in fight against COVID-19 Trump campaign loses appeal over Pennsylvania race The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE.”

Sean SpicerSean Michael SpicerRealClearPolitics editor corrects Giuliani on Pennsylvania claim: 'This is false' Job-seeking Trump officials likely to get chilly reception on K Street Trump challenges electoral process as hopes for victory fade MORE, the former White House press secretary, said that Trump “needs to contrast his 47 months of accomplishment with Joe Biden’s 47 years of nothing.” 

Even Spicer acknowledged that during the first debate on Sep. 29, “the constant interruptions didn’t allow that contrast to come through.”

The stakes could hardly be higher for Trump, especially because a debate scheduled for last week in Miami did not happen. The president declined to take part in that encounter because the Commission on Presidential Debates had insisted it would have to be conducted virtually, in the wake of Trump’s infection with COVID-19.

Trump is lagging by significant margins in opinion polls but his allies insist all is not lost.

Various theories are bandied around the Trump camp as to why a shock victory will be won, just as it was in 2016. 


Some insist that revelations from Hunter Biden’s hard drive will shake up the political world. Others, such as campaign manager Bill StepienBill StepienFormer Trump campaign chief Parscale reportedly planning to write a book The Memo: Trump hits out as tide moves for Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Biden inches closer to victory MORE, believe that the Trump campaign has a far stronger ground game than Biden.

Others claim to discern a lack of Black enthusiasm for Biden, fostered by extensive pro-Trump advertising aimed at African Americans as well as high-profile statements from pop culture icons such as Kanye WestKanye Omari WestLoser.com redirects to Trump's Wikipedia page Juan Williams: Too many men of color got conned by Trump Kardashian West celebrates after Biden-Harris victory MORE, 50 Cent and Ice Cube.

There is also the perennial Team Trump claim that the polls are simply wrong, whether because of pollsters under-sampling groups that lean toward the president or because there are “shy” Trump voters whose allegiance will only become plain on Election Day.

This argument has won support from the chief pollster of the Trafalgar Group, who agued the polls are missing “hidden” Trump voters.

It is theoretically possible that these ideas will prove true. But the data available right now paints a bleak picture for the president.

Trump was down by almost 8 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics national polling average as of Wednesday evening. He is trailing in many key battleground states, including Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

A new poll from the New York Times and Siena College, released Wednesday, showed Trump down by 3 points in Iowa. In 2016, Trump carried the Hawkeye State over Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonValadao unseats Cox in election rematch Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College Federal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work MORE by more than 9 points.

The first debate is seen by some in Trump’s orbit as a missed opportunity, not just because of the president’s argumentative manner but because he lacked a simple or coherent message. 

In Trump’s circle, beset as ever by rivalries, there is some carping about former New Jersey Gov. Chris ChristieChris ChristieTrump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism Trump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin Biden moves forward as GOP breaks with Trump rise MORE’s role in preparing Trump for the initial debate. Christie has been sidelined this time after being hospitalized with COVID-19.

Trump World wants the president to be just as aggressive in Nashville as he was in Cleveland, but to allow Biden space to err, and to give voters a better sense of what he will do to improve their lives.

“He has to run hard through the tape, and I think right now he’s behind,” said a GOP strategist. “He has to go after Biden tomorrow night.”

Barry Bennett, a senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, struck a more optimistic tone, insisting that internal campaign polls are more optimistic than public polls and that he was “exceedingly confident” that the president would win reelection.

Still, Bennett said, “I hope he spreads the good news a little more than last time” in the Nashville debate. Bennett argued Trump should focus on the underlying strength of the economy and advances in the Middle East, among other issues.

Even if people close to Trump think they know what he needs to do — make his case and leave Biden room to trip up — whether he will do it is a whole different matter.

The source familiar with Trump’s strategy said it was important for the president to give his supporters some moments they can fasten onto, arguing that “this election is a turnout election and the winner is going to be the candidate who has the intensity and turns out their vote in the greatest numbers.”

But even this source acknowledged all bets are off once Trump hits the stage.

“You won’t know what he’ll do until he does it.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.