Juan Williams: Breaking down the debates

Juan Williams: Breaking down the debates
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Step right up — get your scorecard for the Biden-Trump debate.

First, keep in mind that this debate is more important to the guy playing catch-up in the polls — Trump —  than the guy holding the lead — Biden.


Here is the pre-game scouting report:

The party conventions did not shake Biden’s seven percentage point lead in national polls. Trump’s campaign is in a budget crunch and cutting advertising in swing states. Biden has ads on the air thanks to a record fundraising haul in August.

Oh, don’t forget this debate is unique in that the country is so politically polarized that polls show there are few undecided voters.

So, Trump is the one who needs the debate to be a big game-changer.

On the other side, Biden’s primary need is a steady debate performance. He wants to cleanse himself of Trump’s mudslinging claims — specifically that Biden is an old man who has lost his marbles and needs a teleprompter to answer any question.

Even before the conventions, Trump was aiming to unnerve Biden by calling for extra debates.

Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiEx-Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell files lawsuits in Michigan, Georgia Trump set for precedent-breaking lame-duck period As Biden administration ramps up, Trump legal effort drags on MORE, on behalf of Trump’s campaign, pushed for a fourth debate in early September. He wrote to the Commission on Presidential Debates that people in 16 states will have mail-in ballots before September 29, the date of the first debate.

Nice try, but no cigar. Any voter with an early ballot, the debate commission replied, can wait and watch the debate.

Meanwhile, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGovernors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation MORE (D-Calif.) trolled Trump by going exactly the opposite way on calls for more debates.

Tongue-in-check, she announced to a room full of reporters, “Just don’t tell anybody I told you this…” before saying in a low voice that she would cancel all the debates.

Trump tells so many lies, Pelosi explained, that he has no “association with truth, evidence, data and facts.”

In one deft move, she skewered Trump and his supporters by reminding them that fact-checkers rank Trump as the biggest political liar of all time.

Biden never wavered on participating in the debates.

Biden has presented himself as a stable, adult alternative to Trump before the debates begin.

And why give any credence to Trump’s claim that Biden is looking to avoid the debate?

That might bolster Trump’s crass suggestions that Biden is weak of mind and — get this — has been on some form of performance enhancing drugs to help his debating prowess.

Yes, like a schoolyard bully, Trump is trying to unsettle Biden with pre-game trash talking. The 74-year-old Trump slandered the 77-year-old Biden back in June as “not all there, everybody knows, and it’s sad.”

Trump is repeating himself here.

He threw the same suggestion of drug use at Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump 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 Biden soars as leader of the free world MORE before the last of their three 2016 debates. In the second of those debates, he had famously tried to provoke her by walking behind her. In their final clash, he interrupted as she spoke to complain that Clinton is a “nasty woman.”

Clinton did not buckle. But Trump is not changing his tactics.

Politico recently reported Trump’s debate preparation team is “studying Biden’s idiosyncrasies,” looking for any tactic to make Biden nervous or angry, apparently in hope of making Biden lose his train of thought or even resurrect the Democrat’s childhood stuttering.

The Biden team sees Trump’s pre-debate strategy as predictable. It is all about put-downs, intimidation and bullying.

“I think I know how to handle bullies — we’ll find out,” Biden said last week when asked about debating Trump.

“I hope I don’t get baited into getting into a brawl with this guy,” Biden added. “It’s going to be hard because I predict he’s going to be shouting.”

Let’s not forget Biden has 40 years of experience with debates. He was widely credited as the winner of his two vice-presidential debates against Sarah Palin in 2008 and Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan calls for Trump to accept results: 'The election is over' Bottom line Democratic anger rises over Trump obstacles to Biden transition MORE in 2012.

Biden’s debate strategy, his aides say, is presenting his agenda to voters while pointing out Trump’s failure as a leader and his many broken promises.


Team Biden goes into the debate with the advantage of the whole country being recently reminded of Trump’s failures and broken promises.

Journalist Bob Woodward’s latest book “Rage” has Trump on tape admitting that he downplayed the killing power of the coronavirus.

Woodward also quotes Trump’s former Secretary of Defense James MattisJames Norman MattisProgressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper Talk grows of Trump firings at Pentagon, CIA MORE calling Trump “dangerous” and “unfit” for office.

Mattis’ indictment fits with the bombshell report from the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that Trump disparaged American soldiers killed in action as “losers” and “suckers.”

Woodward also reports Trump divulged to him the existence of a classified nuclear weapons program in casual conversation.

So, Biden is loaded for a fight. But Trump is a showman. He brought women who accused former President Clinton of sexual misconduct to one debate with Hillary Clinton.

So, get ready to Tweet, post to Facebook, and add to your Instagram story.

The debates have the power to change the race. 

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.