Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump has been practicing with flashcards and prepping with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before Tuesday's presidential debate.

Behind the scenes: Top aides tell Axios he's been testing his attacks on the campaign trail for weeks, seeing what ignites his crowds or falls flat. One of the biggest themes Trump plans to drive home is his "tough guy" persona, which advisers see as an advantage with voters in key states.

Joe Biden has blocked off portions of days for mock debate sessions ahead of the Tuesday debate in Cleveland.

  • Expect a big emphasis from Biden on the sad milestone the U.S. passed last week — the 200,000th U.S. death from COVID.
  • While Biden plans to challenge Trump on any falsehoods, advisers say he won't spend the whole debate playing fact-checker.

Trump's team sees Judge Amy Coney Barrett as a vehicle to bait Biden into turning off centrist voters — if the president can goad Biden into attacking her.

  • That's something Biden advisers have already said they plan to avoid.
  • But Trump's team notes during past Democratic debates, Biden lost his temper.

Biden will counter Trump on the Supreme Court by focusing on how a 6-3 conservative court could be disastrous for the Affordable Care Act.

  • Biden has had several long weekend sessions and some shorter weekday rounds.
  • The informal practice sessions included staff peppering him with questions and massaging his answers.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tells Axios it's important for Biden not to "demoralize" the base with a swipe at progressives:

  • "We're working really hard to try to turn out young people, and it's just not helpful to decry people like myself or Bernie Sanders."
The other side:

Here's what keeps the strategists up at night ...

For Trump:

Overconfidence. Many people close to the president say they're worried he hasn't taken the debates seriously or prepared enough.

  • "Presidents typically lose the first debate to a challenger," top Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) tells Axios.
  • Trump sees Biden as someone he can bulldoze. But Trump's team has warned him that Biden is a seasoned politician.

Policy. One of Trump's big misses of the summer was his failure to lay out what his second-term agenda would look like. He did that during his convention speech, but this time he won't have a prewritten speech or teleprompter to rely on.

  • Trump has always struggled with policy debates, instead preferring to ramble and generalize. But Fox News moderator Chris Wallace is a seasoned Trump interviewer, and he knows how to force Trump to be direct.

Attacks on the moderator. Many Republicans still shudder at the memory of Trump's vicious attacks on Megyn Kelly, then of Fox News — something that stuck with viewers for months.

Downplaying the coronavirus. Trump's team recognizes that the president's biggest weakness is his handling of the coronavirus and the casual way in which he has seemingly minimized the number of people who have died.

  • This is the area in which they have tried to prep him the most. But Trump's refusal to admit he's done anything but a fantastic job presents a real problem.
For Biden:

Gaffes. Confidants believe the main risk for Biden is misspeaking, transposing numbers or seeming to lose his train of thought.

  • If Biden does have a verbal misstep, their plan is to compare it to whatever mistakes Trump makes.

Temper. In some of his interactions with voters on the trail, Biden has shown flashes of anger.

  • His challenge will be responding to Trump forcefully, without losing his cool.

Verbosity. Biden, who overcame stuttering as a child, well knows — and frequently chides himself — for going too long.

  • He also tends to take detours on his way to the point he is trying to make.
  • He's also a creature of decades spent in the Senate, and some of his parliamentary verbiage is better understood in the cloakroom than in American living rooms.
  • He has seemed to meander in the past by mentioning old colleagues and mentors, like in a CNN town hall when he name-checked the late Sens. Mike Mansfield and Ted Kennedy.

Deference to the moderator — something Biden did during primary debates.

  • The danger is inadvertently ceding ground to Trump.

Taking the bait. Trump's preferred ways of getting under Biden's skin include suggesting he's lost a mental step because of his age (Biden is 77; Trump is 74) or going after Biden's son, Hunter. 

Go deeper ... Debate commission co-chair: We don't expect moderators to fact-check candidates

Go deeper

Kamala Harris, the new left's insider

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images     

Progressive leaders see Sen. Kamala Harris, if she's elected vice president, as their conduit to a post-Biden Democratic Party where the power will be in younger, more diverse and more liberal hands.

  • Why it matters: The party's rising left sees Harris as the best hope for penetrating Joe Biden's older, largely white inner circle.

If Biden wins, Harris will become the first woman, first Black American and first Indian American to serve as a U.S. vice president — and would instantly be seen as the first in line for the presidency should Biden decide against seeking a second term.

Oct 29, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Biden's China plan: Bring allies

Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Joe Biden is planning to confront China across the globe, embracing some of President Trump's goals but rejecting his means.

The big picture: By starting a trade war with China, Trump has fundamentally altered the U.S.- China relationship — and forced both Republicans and Democrats to accept a more confrontational approach towards Beijing.

Oct 28, 2020 - Podcasts

Pete Buttigieg talks Joe Biden's economic plans

Joe Biden has a very different prescription for America's economy than does President Trump. Not just in terms of how to tax and spend, but also in how to approach trading partners like China.

Axios Re:Cap digs into Biden's economic policies and philosophies with former presidential candidate and current Biden campaign surrogate Pete Buttigieg.