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Republicans Warn Trump

Republicans Advise Trump to Steer Clear of 2020 Debate Missteps: ‘Maintain Composure’

Senate Republicans are urging former President Trump to avoid a repeat of his widely criticized debate performance against President Biden from four years ago as they prepare to face off again on Thursday.

Trump’s 2020 debate is infamous for its interruptions, aggressive behavior, and the controversial statement for the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by.” GOP leaders now encourage him to adopt a more presidential approach.

“Don’t take the bait,” advised Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the second-ranking Senate Republican and a candidate for party leadership next year. “Demeanor and tone are crucial. Trump can show his strength and decisiveness, but he should let Biden speak freely, as it may not benefit him.”

“The debates are vital, as they always are,” Thune continued. “If Trump displays leadership while keeping calm and allowing Biden to talk, it could work in his favor.”

This week’s debate, scheduled ahead of both national conventions for the first time since televised debates began in 1960, marks a significant moment in the general election campaign. It could shift the dynamics of the race, where Biden has struggled to maintain a lead in key battleground states.

As past candidates know, one poor performance can alter a campaign’s trajectory—just as Trump experienced in 2020. Republicans hope the roles will reverse this time.

“The main question is whether Biden is capable,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a staunch Trump supporter. “If I were Trump, I’d focus on whether the country is on the right track. He doesn’t need to be overly aggressive; he should simply argue that if people think we’re on the wrong track, they’re right.”

Trump quickly agreed to Thursday’s debate at CNN studios in Atlanta after months of expressing a desire for numerous debates against Biden. His campaign has worked to lower expectations for Biden’s performance, portraying him as weak and mentally unfit.

However, Trump’s team is also preparing for Biden to exceed expectations, setting up a narrative to dismiss any strong performance as a facade—similar to their response to Biden’s State of the Union address in March.

Biden’s team eagerly accepted the debate challenge, aiming to elevate the election’s importance and capture the attention of undecided voters.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) noted, “People will look for cues on whether President Biden can answer questions effectively and if Trump can maintain composure. It’s a debate that raises many questions.”

Biden has departed for Camp David for intensive debate preparation, a practice Trump has avoided since his 2016 campaign.

Trump supporters understand the significance of Thursday’s debate, remembering his overly aggressive approach in 2020, where he frequently interrupted Biden and appeared visibly stressed—a factor compounded by his subsequent COVID-19 diagnosis.

Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio), reportedly a contender for Trump’s running mate, acknowledged the high stakes but expressed confidence in a favorable outcome for Trump. “It’s going to be an important night. Trump needs to present a clear contrast between his tenure and Biden’s. He just has to emphasize that theme.”

Other Trump supporters are optimistic about his chances. “Trump’s going to dominate,” predicted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “You can quote me on that.”

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