Al’s Afternoon Tea Debate Night Special: Biden vs. Trump, a Preview

A preview and predictions for tonight's presidential debate on CNN.

By Al Perrotta Published on June 27, 2024

Welcome in for Al’s Afternoon Tea. Today, we’re setting up in anticipation of tonight’s presidential debate.

All Eyes on Atlanta

The 45th and 46th presidents are squaring off in a matter of hours in the first of two televised presidential debates. That alone makes the night historic.

Also historic is that fact that this one is taking place before the two parties’ official nominating conventions convene. While normally that would not be a huge deal, the early debate takes on special meaning in the case of Joe Biden. If he tanks tonight, the pressure on Democrats to pull a switcheroo at the Democratic National Convention in September will be enormous.

The stakes are through the roof — and the ratings should be as well. 

What Can We Expect?

Juiced Joe

Joe Biden will come out of the gate highly energized. He’s been resting for a week at Camp David and will likely be juiced. The danger? Amped Up Shouting Joe from the State of the Union won’t play in a studio with no audience or in TV close-ups. That Biden comes across as angry and mean. “America, get off my lawn!” won’t win over any undecideds. Also, if Trump is the “nice” one on stage, it’s over.

Joe Will Throw All Manner of Lies at Donald Trump

When you understand that Joe Biden will say or do anything to retain power — or make himself look better — you understand that Trump has to be prepared for anything. Anything. From Donald Trump being responsible for flooding in Minnesota to Biden taking credit for Taylor Swift’s success.

Biden will cite statistics invented out of thin air. (Inflation being 9% when he took office, for starters.) He will take credit for things he had no hand in and blame Trump for his own failings. He will not be able to resist accusing Trump of assorted hoaxes long proven false and inventing new ones. For example, he will say Trump supports a national ban on abortion.

He may again claim that gasoline was $5 a gallon when he took office.

But he won’t stop there. Trump wants to enslave black people. Execute his political enemies on the White House lawn. A rapist who will force women to go barefoot and pregnant. Trump is Hitler without the mustache. 

Trump needs to flip the script. “Sure, Joe. I’m all that. And Hunter’s laptop is Russian disinformation.” “Sure, Joe. And you were really arrested trying to see Nelson Mandela.” “Sure, Joe. And you were number one in your law class.” Trump can repeatedly hit him with Biden’s garageful of fictions. Then quickly move on.

Trump can also pivot with, “You know, Joe, if you didn’t have such a bad record, you wouldn’t have to make up bad stuff about me.”

If Biden gets angry, which increasingly has become his default setting, Trump will have an opening. “Why are you always so angry? You’re trying to put me in prison — I’m the one who should be all hot and bothered.” And if he wants to be a smart aleck, add, “Calm down. I promise we’ll get you some ice cream after this. My treat.”

Joe Will Have CNN in His Corner

The Trump campaign – and anyone who has watched CNN in the past seven years — understands this will be a three-on-one debate. Asking Jake Tapper and Dana Bash to moderate a debate that involve Trump is like asking Bonnie and Clyde to guard your bank.

Thumb on the scale? They’ll have an anvil the size of Brian Stelter on the scale. (Assuming word didn’t come down from on high that the powers actually running the Democrat Party want Joe dispatched.)

Biden’s lies and fantasies will not be fact-checked, and the questions will be heavily Democrat-friendly. Expect questions on January 6, election denial, climate change, abortion, gun control, “democracy,” and every other DNC talking point. Even questions about immigration will be spun to Biden’s advantage. Everything Trump says after “good evening” will be challenged. Biden will not be asked any questions he had no way of expecting, anything that would force him to think on his feet. 

If Trump gets Biden on the ropes, Tapper or Dash will jump in before he hits the canvas. They won’t be able to help themselves. And they have the power to cut Trump’s mic.

Trump’s task will be to take it all in good humor, like flicking lint off his jacket. “The Secret Service doesn’t protect Biden as well as you.” Then add, very seriously, “You do know, you won’t be there to save Biden when he’s in a meeting with President Xi.”

The Muting Rule Will Help Trump

The candidates’ mics will be muted while the other is talking. This works in Trump’s favor, since interrupting Joe Biden is the last thing he wants to do. It also allows Trump to stay mellow and take advantage of his great comic timing for zingers or to calmly land a devastating blow.

A quick jab or funny line, then a pivot to Trump’s record or Biden’s. Perhaps throw in every once in a while, “You holdin’ up, Joe? You good?”

Trump must remember he’s not there to win an argument. He’s there to speak for the American people. Biden will be doing anything he can to get Trump to overreact and turn into the construction guy from Queens.


Will Biden Resist Calling Trump a “Convicted Felon”?

Biden has to assume that Trump will be devastatingly prepared for any efforts to call him a “convicted felon.” Even if it is just, “I least I was deemed mentally fit to stand trial.” But will Biden be able to resist throwing that line at Trump?

One possible Trump approach: “Okay, Joe. Explain to me exactly what crime I actually committed. And no help from you, Jake. Even CNN’s legal experts couldn’t figure it out. No one can. You want to go around calling me a ‘convicted felon’ — convicted of what? Explain what I supposedly did. Then explain why your number three guy at the Justice Department took a demotion to join Alvin Bragg’s office to lead the case against me.”

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We can assume Trump will also use his familiar line that he sees the conviction as a badge of honor, and say something like, “I’m fighting for those you’ve gone after. Grandmothers for singing hymns outside abortion clinics. Parents for protesting men in their daughters’ locker rooms. Doctors who expose child sex-change operations at children’s hospitals.

“Face it, Joe. You’re not after me. You’re after the American people, and I am just in the way.”

Will Biden Fade?

CNN decided to throw commercial breaks into the debate, which will give Biden a breather. But will he be able to go the full 90 minutes without running out of gas? And what can Trump do to help empty Biden’s tank?

Two things: Make him talk, make him answer questions. Make him defend the indefensible, like the deadly open border and demonic mutilation of healthy children, men competing in women’s sports and calling churchgoers and military service members domestic terrorists.

As often as Trump can, he needs to turn his own answers at the end of his time into questions for Biden. Ask him. And if Tapper or Bash tried to run interference, Joe will look weak and helpless. Then Trump can say, “He wants to continue to be the leader of the free world. And you’re scared to let him answer a question?”


Joe Biden doesn’t only have to survive 90 minutes, he has to walk a near-impossible line of being fired up and energetic without coming across as angry, mean, and shouty. Nobody’s seen the Scranton Joe of old in years. He has to somehow do more than argue that Donald Trump is a dictator, a devil, and destructor of worlds. It’s far too easy for Trump to counter.

Trump has the better record. If he has the better temperament, the night will be his.  

In fact, if Donald Trump plays it charming, calm, and smart, he can end Joe Biden’s candidacy by 10:30 p.m. tonight. Which may well come as a relief to a majority of Democrats.


The action starts at 9 p.m. Eastern on CNN, with other carriers like Fox News, MSNBC, and PBS  simulcasting the feed. Both John Zmirak and I will be posting debate wraps and commentary.

See you afterward!


Al Perrotta is The Stream’s Washington bureau chief, coauthor with John Zmirak of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Immigration, and coauthor of the counterterrorism memoir Hostile Intent: Protecting Yourself Against Terrorism.

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