‘Keep The Bar Off The Floor’: Low Expectations Won’t Save Biden From Sleepy Debate Performance, Observers Say

Behind the White House smokescreen that President Joe Biden is fit, energetic and sharp as a tack behind closed doors, the first presidential debate between Biden and Donald Trump could present a make-or-break pivot point in the race for the Oval Office.

While the White House argues that the concerns are hysteria drummed up by Republicans and their allies in right-wing media, prominent Democrats, too, have voiced their worry about Biden’s fitness and reelection chances. Even foreign media took notice of a slower and fragile Biden following his trip to the G7.

Thanks to his increasing frequency of gaffes and freezes, expectations for Biden ahead of the first debate are low — perhaps even too low, some political observers told the Caller.

“I think our side has to make sure that we keep the bar off the floor because right now, merely showing up is a win [for Biden],” Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary and host of the Sean Spicer podcast, told the Daily Caller. “This is a guy who’s been in politics for 50 years, and we need to remind everybody, including journalists, that he prides himself on being a strong debater. And I actually think that, just like State of the Union, they will, they will do what’s necessary to get him ready and rested.”

Many observers, particularly on the right, speculated that Biden may have been medicated for the State of the Union to increase his energy and attention levels. Trump seemingly made a similar allusion about the first debate, telling supporters during a campaign speech that if the president performs it’s because he is “pumped up.”

After challenging Biden to debate “anywhere, any place, any time,” the president and his campaign agreed to face off against Trump and his team. The proposal, put forth by Biden and his campaign, was riddled with conditions. Among those non-negotiables were no live audience, a select variety of networks to host and only two candidates on stage.

With CNN set to host the debate on Thursday, many of those conditions were met. The two candidates will skip opening statements and the program will take two commercial breaks. No live audience will be present and the candidates’ microphones will be muted while the other is answering.

At one point, Trump claimed that it was proposed that the candidates sit for the duration of the debate.

With the debate guardrails seemingly favoring Biden, former White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told the Caller that neither the conditions or the bar being too low will matter.

“It doesn’t really matter, because if Joe Biden walks out on that stage and says, ‘Hi, I’m Joe Biden, and I’m running for reelection for the U.S. Senate, the media will say ‘My god. He’s Churchill. What a brilliant orator. I’ve never seen anything as good or as sharp as him.’ So while the expectations for Joe Biden are always low because he’s consistently done nothing for half of a century in elected office, the media will come alongside him and prop him up regardless of his performance,” Gidley told the Caller.

“Strategically, you usually want to set the bar high for your opponent, but again, my point is, the media is going to cover for him regardless,” he added.

Biden is coming off a tough week in the spotlight.

The week began with the president appearing to be frozen in a video captured at the White House Juneteenth celebration while Vice President Kamala Harris and other attendees danced around him.

The president was then caught on camera during a skydiving demonstration at the G7, appearing to wander off before Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni nudged him back to the group. Several days later, Biden appeared to freeze during a campaign event before former President Barack Obama grabbed his wrist and led him off stage.

The White House snapped back at the clips, calling them “cheap fakes” during a press briefing.

“I think you all have called this the ‘cheap fakes’ video. And that’s exactly what they are. They are cheap fakes video. They are done in bad faith. And — and some of your news organization have — have been very clear, have stressed that these right-wing — the right-wing critics of the President have a credibility problem because of — the fact checkers have repeatedly caught them pushing misinformation, disinformation,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

“Regardless of how he performs in a debate, everyone can see how much Biden has deteriorated over the last few years. And people have been suffering under his policies the whole time, too. Neither one of those things is good for Biden,” Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump 2020 campaign, told the Caller, adding that the Trump campaign should prepare for the Biden campaign to make him “as awake as possible.”

One veteran of Republican presidential politics, who was granted anonymity to speak freely about the situation, acknowledged that relentless attacks on Biden’s mental fitness probably lower expectations for his performance in debates, which would make it easy for Biden to win praise just for making it through without incident. But it’s also possible that it can cut both ways — while lowering the bar for Biden may make it more likely that he succeeds, a good performance from him in the first debate is not necessarily a bad thing for Trump, the operative continued.

The Republican said that many people think it’s still possible panicked Democrats will seek to replace Biden on the ballot, and a strong showing in the first debate would help quiet that talk. There’s little doubt that Team Trump would rather face Biden in November than a potential replacement like California Gov. Gavin Newsom, the source added.

In addition to fighting off falsely-labeled “cheap fakes,” the White House communications team has battled concerns from allies of Biden — even some close to the campaign.

The Wall Street Journal published a piece of reporting based off of at least 45 interviews with Republican and Democrat lawmakers alike. While the outlet said that most Republicans were concerned about Biden’s fitness for office, some Democrats expressed worry too.

The White House questioned the piece’s credibility and pointed out the only negative on the record comments came from a Republican.

“Literally, the sole on-record critic in the entire story is Kevin McCarthy, whose interview contradicts his earlier public and private statements about finding the President sharp in their private meetings,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates told the Caller. “What’s more, Democratic members of Congress who refuted Republicans’ lies on the record were left out of the article. So was Governor Roy Cooper.”

The WSJ also noted that ahead of its publication, the White House kept “close tabs” on its interviews with lawmakers and apparently urged some Democratic lawmakers to follow up with the outlet for additional comments.

“They just, you know, said that I should give you a call back,” New York Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks told the WSJ, referring to the White House.

“We thought it was important that all perspectives be represented,” Bates told the WSJ, adding that it was to correct “false and politically motivated claims.”

Biden’s State of the Union address went fairly well. Aside from botching the name of slain 22-year-old Laken Riley, the president made it through the address without any other major slip-ups, although the performance had no discernable impact on his poor polling.

Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump-Pence 2020 campaign, said even a gaffe-free debate performance won’t help Biden for very long.

“This is just going to continue to plague him for the entire campaign,” Lotter told the Caller, adding that he is not worried about the bar being too low. “He keeps having these moments. Obama leaving him off the stage by the hand is a horrible visual, and I cannot underscore enough, and I personally believe this to my core, that United States presidents are not entirely but largely viewed by the American people as the image they portray not by what they actually say.”

Similar to Trump’s remarks at a campaign event in Wisconsin, Jason Miller, senior adviser to the campaign, suggested that Biden needs medication to perform well.

“President Trump takes on numerous tough interviews every single week and delivers lengthy rally speeches while standing, demonstrating elite stamina. He does not need to be programmed by staff or shot up with chemicals like Joe Biden does,” Miller told the Caller of concerns that the bar may be too low for Biden.

Though insiders may not think that a low bar will have a significant effect on the outcome of the debate, one veteran in presidential politics warned how Biden’s public decline could eventually spell bad news for the Trump campaign.

There is a line for Trump and his campaign when it comes to President Biden’s public decline, they told the Caller. If the chatter about Biden’s decline ventures beyond genuine questions into mocking, the campaign will run the risk of creating a sympathetic character that could pull at the heartstrings of the youth, who have grandparents close in age to Biden, the source said.

Trump himself seemed to take a moment to caution against expecting too little from Biden during his Wisconsin rally last week, calling Biden a “worthy debater.”

In the meantime, Biden will rest and prepare away from the White House, spending the preceding days at Camp David.

Spicer expects the campaign to have the president rested and ready to go, but regardless of how he performs, he’s confident the Trump campaign will know how to control the narrative.

“They’re seasoned political operatives. All of them have been involved in debates at some level and understand the need to set expectations heading in,” Spicer said. “And then also how to spin a win on the way out.”

AUTHOR

REAGAN REESE

White House correspondent.

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EDITORS NOTE: This Daily Caller column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.

1 reply
  1. Royal Allen Brown III
    Royal Allen Brown III says:

    This farce is not a debate but merely a 90 min Question and Answer session which CNN will do everythiing they can do to help Beijing Joe Biden!

    Will make no difference – thru Too Big To Rig voting for Trump by every American who loves our country, we will prevail and stemming the tide of Obama 3/Biden Communism will begin again.

    Reply

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