01 trump clinton debate 2016
CNN  — 

It’s been a cataclysmic week for President Donald Trump, with a damning Atlantic report detailing the President’s disparaging comments about military veterans and Bob Woodward’s reporting about how he sought to “downplay” the coronavirus in the early months of that crisis.

At almost every turn of his political life – from the beginning of his haphazard 2016 campaign to the coronavirus crisis – Trump has shown that he has no plan. And now, a new report makes clear just how much he is playing it by ear with less than two months until Election Day.

The first presidential debate between Trump and Joe Biden is exactly 20 days from today. And according to a new report from NBC, the President has done a total of zero formal preparation for it!

“President Donald Trump has not held a single mock debate session, and has no plans to stage a formal practice round, as he readies for his first face-off with Joe Biden in less than three weeks, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions,” reads the NBC report.

Which, well, is not surprising.

In fact, Trump appears to be taking the same winging-it approach to his trio of debates with Biden that he took four years ago with Hillary Clinton. As The New York Times wrote back then of Trump’s debate prep:

“Mr. Trump is largely shunning traditional debate preparations, but has been watching video of Mrs. Clinton’s best and worst debate moments, looking for her vulnerabilities. … Mr. Trump, in turn, is approaching the debate like a Big Man on Campus who thinks his last-minute term paper will be dazzling simply because he wrote it.”

Trump insisted he won all three of the debates, although neutral observers by and large declared Clinton the victor in each. 

His stunning win in November 2016 over Clinton, of course, served in Trump’s mind as a reinforcement that all of his strategy – including his decision to not really prepare for the debates – had been vindicated.

(Worth noting: Clinton beat Trump among the 63% of voters who said the debates were either the most important factor or a very important factor in deciding their votes, according to the 2016 exit poll.)

And maybe Trump is right! That he didn’t study up in 2016 before the debate and it didn’t matter. So why do it this time?

But it’s also worth remembering that Trump is in far worse shape, politically speaking, today than he was four years ago at this time. He trails Biden both nationally and in virtually every swing state by margins significantly larger than in 2016. And unlike Clinton, Biden isn’t someone who engenders huge negative reactions among Republicans

The simple reality is that Trump needs to change the dynamic of this race – a referendum on his presidency and specifically his handling of the coronavirus – or he will lose.

The best opportunity he will have to alter the race’s trajectory is the three debates with Biden, especially the first one, on September 29, since traditionally that is the one that draws the most viewers.

The Point: That Trump is preparing for such a massive moment by, well, not really preparing tells you everything you need to know about him and his presidency.