The knockout blows Biden must land to win the first debate

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In 2024’s first televised presidential debate this week, President Biden must show he is an effective and energetic leader focused on building a better future for us all.

He should try to set the tone early on that America must maintain its role and responsibility as an international leader and a defender of democracy.  

The Democratic president should come out swinging against former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, to show Trump is unfit to lead our country and focused only on building a better future for himself.  

The challenge Biden faces is to expose Trump as a dangerous candidate, consumed by rage and a thirst for vengeance over his baseless complaints of being unjustly criminally prosecuted and robbed of victory in what Trump calls the “rigged” 2020 election.   

Biden should say Trump is running for president to weaponize the Justice Department to serve his interests and punish his adversaries; cut taxes for himself, his wealthy donors and corporations; cut spending on programs benefiting millions of Americans; collect campaign contributions to pay more than $100 million in his legal bills; boost earnings from his businesses (he reported over $1.6 billion in income as president) and stay out of prison. 

Most importantly, Biden should emphasize the grave threat a reelected Trump would pose to our democracy and free elections, abortion rights, the rule of law, our free press, the independent powers of Congress and federal regulatory agencies and U.S. and global security if Trump makes good on his threats to end U.S. aid to Ukraine and withdraw from NATO.  

Biden should note that Trump’s frequent praise for dictators who rule Russia, China, North Korea and other nations sends a clear warning that Trump wants to follow in their footsteps, placing himself above the law and ruling with an iron fist.  

And Biden can call out Trump for his long history of racist remarks and actions aimed at Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans dating back to the 1970s. 

Hitting back at Trump’s claim that he was “your president of law and order,” Biden should say that convicted felon Trump is really a supporter of criminals. This is illustrated by Trump’s praise for rioters who invaded the U.S. Capitol to keep him in power on Jan. 6, 2021 and injured more than 140 police officers. Trump calls the rioters “patriots” treated unjustly and says he will consider pardoning all of the nearly 1,300 people charged in the attack if he becomes president. 

Biden should point out that Trump was impeached twice by the House, convicted of 34 felony crimes growing out of a sex scandal and indicted in three other criminal cases.

Biden can remind debate viewers that Trump could face possible prison sentences in his criminal cases, including in state cases in New York (where he has already been convicted) and Georgia. Trump would not be able to pardon himself or order these state cases dropped as president.     

In addition, Biden should note that Trump was fined hundreds of millions of dollars in civil lawsuits he lost. He was found liable by a jury for sexually abusing and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll.  

We can expect Trump to repeat his frequent denials of any wrongdoing.      

The person who can do the most to help Biden win the debate is none other than Trump himself. The more unhinged Trump behaves, the more Biden will benefit. 

Trump will turn off swing voters if he rants and raves about being persecuted by Democrats, prosecutors, judges, the “fake news media,” the “deep state” and opponents he has called “Communists, Marxists, Fascists and the Radical Left Thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our Country.”

Trump will undoubtedly attack Biden with a rapid-fire barrage of insults and lies, showcasing the former president’s talent as a master self-promoter and showman. If Biden and the CNN debate moderators attempt to fact-check Trump, we should expect Trump to insist he is telling the truth and they are lying.     

Trump is virtually certain to attack Biden as a doddering old man of 81, suffering from dementia.  A strong debate performance by Biden will show such a claim is ridiculous. 

The president should note that at 78, Trump can’t claim to be the youth candidate. Biden can say that Trump’s erratic behavior and delusional statements show he has lost his grip on reality.  

Biden can add that psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have warned that Trump is mentally ill and suffers from dementia, citing the bestselling 2019 book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.” 

Biden should say his recent European trips to meet with foreign leaders and his record in office illustrate his physical and mental vigor. He can contrast this with Trump repeatedly falling asleep at his recent trial, in which Trump was convicted of falsifying business records to cover up his alleged extramarital sexual relationship with an adult film actress. Trump claims that despite his payment of $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels, the two never had sex.        

If Trump attacks Biden for an occasional gaffe, Biden can cite examples of Trump frequently sticking his foot in his mouth when he speaks without a teleprompter, sounding like someone who wandered away from the memory care unit of a nursing home. 

Biden won’t be able to convince Trump’s MAGA base that their dear leader shouldn’t be elected. But Biden can use the debate to seek support from independents, Republicans who backed Nikki Haley and other Trump opponents in GOP primaries, and Democrats reluctant to give Biden another term. 

Biden has a strong record of achievement as president and has been credited by historians for accomplishing more legislatively in his first two years than any president since Lyndon Johnson. Biden should highlight some of his accomplishments in the debate, but he shouldn’t let a long recitation of his record take up most of his speaking time.  

Elections are about the future, so Biden needs to spend most of his speaking time at the debate telling voters about the good things he would do in a second term and the bad things Trump would do.  

I believe Biden will deliver an outstanding performance in the debate, just as he did when he delivered his State of the Union Address to Congress in March. Many things can happen between now and Election Day, but I expect the debate will strengthen Biden’s chances of beating Trump a second time and staying in the White House.

Donna Brazile is a political strategist, a contributor to ABC News and former chair of the Democratic National Committee. She is the author of “Hacks: Inside the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” 

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