President, Donald Trump, Joe Biden
Left to right: Donald Trump and President Joe Biden. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED) and The White House / Wikimedia

Donald Trump’s surrogates don’t seem to have a lot of confidence in the former president, as evidenced by how they are lowering the bar for his performance at Thursday’s debate.

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Ahead of any presidential debate, it has become a tradition for both campaigns to play the expectations game. Essentially, they preemptively offer excuses that might explain a potentially poor performance from their candidate.

For example, Democrats might say that President Joe Biden has a country to run and therefore won’t have time to prepare for the debate as much as he would like.

Republicans, on the other hand, may remind voters that Donald Trump is a narcissistic manbaby who will rant about the 2020 election being stolen and may or may not ramble on about wind turbines (or sharks) when the two men face off Thursday.

Just kidding, they obviously won’t say that; but herein lies their challenge.

At any time, the former president can go off-track with a bizarre tirade or some weird story. And, if Biden knows what’s good for him, he will try to goad his predecessor into doing just that.

And that is why Trump’s surrogates have taken the expectations game to a new and (unsurprisingly) absurd level.

Their first strategy is a familiar one: Working the refs.

Essentially, that means claiming that the moderators — Dana Bash and Jake Tapper — are so biased that Trump, who has agreed to every aspect of this debate, cannot possibly expect to be treated fairly.

That has two possible benefits. On the one hand, in an effort to show that they are fair, the two CNN hosts might give Trump a bit more leeway when it comes to his inevitable rule-breaking.

And, if the former president does poorly, Republicans can then move on to the blame game and point fingers at the moderators.

We saw this unfold on Monday when Trump surrogates took to social media to attack both hosts.

CNN did the moderators no favors when Kasie Hunt cut off an interview with Trump’s press secretary Karoline Leavitt because she kept criticizing Tapper and Bash.

Obviously, the MAGAverse was atwitter and took to social media with claims of bias.

(Note to CNN: If you don’t want people lying on your shows, then don’t invite liars onto your shows.)

However, while the strategy of accusing CNN of bias could be used as an excuse if Trump does poorly, it would not explain a good performance from Biden.

In a way, Republicans have been helping the president by characterizing him as a feeble-minded geezer who can barely string sentences together and needs handlers to point him in the right direction.

Therefore, many of Trump’s supporters will already be shocked if Biden manages to find his own podium.

But what if he does more than that? What if he actually does well? How would they explain that?

Don’t worry, MAGAverse, Rep. Ronny Johnson Jackson (R-TX) is on the case… and he already has an explanation: performance-enhancing drugs.

According to Jackson, who inexplicably served as White House doctor for Trump, Biden will be juiced up.

In one of the more curious recent stunts by a House Republican (which is a high bar), the Trump ally sent a letter to the White House stating his concerns.

“I demand that you submit to a clinically validated drug test in order to reassure the American people that you are mentally fit to serve as President and not relying on performance enhancing drugs to help you with your debate performance or on a day-to-day basis to assist you in performing your duties as President of the United States,” he wrote. “This drug test should be administered both immediately before and after the debate and should include, but not be limited to, performance enhancing drugs.”

Jackson contends that Biden is using these drugs during high-profile appearances, like his State of the Union address, which earned the president rave reviews.  

The lawmaker offers no explanation as to why Biden wouldn’t be using these drugs all the time.

Now, before you say to yourself: “This guy used to be the White House physician, he may know what he is talking about,” keep in mind that he was demoted for excessive drinking, making “sexual and denigrating statements” about female subordinates, and using the sleep drug Ambien while on the job.

In addition, according to an Office of Congressional Ethics report made public Monday, June 24, 2024, “there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Jackson converted campaign funds from Texans for Ronny Jackson to personal use or that Rep. Jackson’s campaign committee expended funds that were not attributable to bona fide campaign or political purposes.”

So, he may not be the most unimpeachable source out there.

In any case, this week’s debate should be interesting precisely because the expectations for both candidates are so low.

Will Joe Biden be able to contain his roid rage? Is Donald Trump going to tell stories about sharks? We just don’t know… so maybe it’s worth tuning in after all.


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a senior editor for Politics and director of the Mentor Apprentice Program at WhoWhatWhy. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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