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Trump’s wild cocaine claims ahead of Biden debate reveal his fear

WASHINGTON, DC – Even before CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash have welcomed their worldwide audience to Thursday’s TV debate between President Joe Biden and his Republican rival, former president Donald Trump is sowing seeds of doubt in case it all goes wrong.

While Biden hunkered down for days of in-depth rehearsals for the first TV face-off of the 2024 presidential election cycle, Trump was implying that the 81-year old Commander-in-Chief might use cocaine ahead of the 90-minute encounter.

On the campaign trail in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Trump referenced the discovery last July of a small bag of cocaine in a hallway in the West Wing of the White House. The incident sparked the partial evacuation of the complex, and the cocaine’s presence in the building remains an unexplained mystery.

“What happened?” Trump asked his supporters rhetorically. “Somebody didn’t pick up hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cocaine,” he claimed, before adding “actually, I think it was Joe”.

On Saturday Trump, who has regularly questioned Biden’s mental faculties, appeared to be preparing for the possibility his rival could impress by suggesting he would get “a shot in the ass” of supplements and “come out all jacked up”, before again alluding to the cocaine discovery.

In the realm of facts, not a single piece of evidence supports Trump’s contention. The tiny amount of powdered cocaine was not worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, there is no indication that it was part of a surreptitious supply operation, and there has been no evidence connecting the discovery of the drugs to Biden.

But in the world of Trump debate prep, anything goes, no matter how unhinged. “He’s going to be so pumped up,” predicted Trump of Biden’s performance, a claim to which the Republican presidential standard-bearer may return if the debate goes badly for him.

It has been just over a month since Biden goaded Trump into accepting CNN’s invitation, stunning Washington by announcing that he had agreed to appear in a debate that will be the earliest presidential TV match-up in US election electoral history. The announcement came while Trump was in the dock in Manhattan, on trial over his 2016 hush money payments to former adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Trump will now become the first convicted felon to participate in a presidential debate, and from the moment he rushed to accept Biden’s dare, prominent members of his inner circle have publicly suggested he may regret his decision.

“It’s rigged so heavily in Joe Biden’s favour,” groused the former president’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump, now a top official at the Republican National Committee, hours after Trump signalled his decision to participate.

“It’s a set-up. It’s not a neutral forum. It’s CNN,” warned former Republican presidential aspirant Vivek Ramaswamy on the same day.

So far, Trump has confounded sceptics who suspected he would find a reason to rethink his decision and drop out of the debate. His campaign has even agreed to rules that seem likely to favour Biden: there will be no live audience for Trump to play off, and – in another historical first – both candidates’ microphones will be muted except when they are asked direct questions.

If Trump engages in his traditional bluster with ongoing interruptions and interjections, it is unclear how CNN will handle matters, especially if Biden responds to comments by Trump that the viewing audience has not been permitted to hear.

Biden, ever the traditionalist, is in the middle of five days of intense debate preparation that involves poring over briefing papers, rehearsing with Trump stand-ins, and bracing for personal attacks that his campaign chiefs fully expect the former president to launch.

The President is expected to brand his predecessor a convicted criminal and a danger to the future of American democracy, but will also want to accentuate the positive and find ways of persuading voters that – even if they don’t feel it – they are better off than they were when he came into office.

Trump is not – as some insiders have suggested – planning to “wing it”. While he is believed to have eschewed formal debate rehearsals, he has engaged in multiple “policy discussions” with top Republicans in an effort to sharpen his capacity to parry Biden’s attacks.

Neither candidate enters the debate favoured to win. For Biden, the decision to participate is a high-stakes gamble at a time when he desperately needs to turn his beleaguered re-election campaign around. Trump, who until last week had been consistently ahead of Biden in national polling for many months, will hope the encounter reverses his opponent’s recent gains.

Of course, by the time November rolls around, voters may struggle to remember much about Thursday night’s event… unless it goes completely off the rails.

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