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Trump and Biden at the first debate. Morry Gash-Pool/Getty Image

Watch for President Trump to address Joe Biden as “the big guy” or “the chairman” at tonight's debate as a way of dramatizing the Hunter Biden emails. Hunter's former business partner Tony Bobulinski is expected to be a Trump debate guest.

The big picture: Trump's advisers universally view the first debate as a catastrophe — evidenced by a sharp plunge in Trump’s public and (more convincingly for them) private polling immediately following the debate.

  • The team has a message for him: Let Joe Biden talk — he’s not good at talking!
  • They want him to smile more, be lighter, and pick his moments to attack rather than attacking constantly for 90 minutes and turning off viewers.

Former VP Joe Biden's team wants to keep up the pressure on Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The Biden campaign didn’t lay out directly how they might respond to attacks related to the Hunter emails, but they previewed it by dismissing it as Russian disinformation. 
  • Biden might press Trump on his "60 Minutes" interview — which Trump released today ahead of it airing on CBS — that features the president saying "I hope they end" the Affordable Care Act.
  • "Whichever version of Trump shows up tonight, nothing will change the impact his erratic, chaotic presidency has had on the American people," said Kate Bedingfield, Biden campaign manager, on a call with reporters.

Between the lines: A producer from the Commission on Presidential Debates will have the ability to mute microphones during the opening parts of each of tonight's six segments.

  • Trump interrupted Biden 71 times during the last debate, while Biden interrupted Trump 22 times.

One Trump adviser said he pushed the president to hammer Biden repeatedly on the economy — how he’ll raise your taxes, increase regulations and go to war against fracking. 

  • None of Trump’s advisers expressed any great confidence he would do any of this, but said they remained hopeful.

The big question: How much can this debate actually change the dynamics of the race?

  • Over 42 million Americans have already voted in the 2020 general election.
An official walks past seats that are marked as off limits to encourage social distancing. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

The debate starts at 9 p.m. EST on NBC, moderated by Kristen Welker.

Go deeper

Jan 26, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden on Trump's impeachment trial: "I think it has to happen"

President Biden told CNN Monday that he believes the impeachment trial of former President Trump "has to happen," but he does not think 17 Republicans will join Democrats to vote to convict.

Why it matters: Biden's comments are most concrete he has made about his views on Trump's second impeachment.

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.