Following a widely panned performance at the first presidential debate of the 2020 election, President Donald Trump said this week he was doing little in the way of formal preparation for his second and final meeting, on Thursday, with his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
"We do interviews with you," Trump told reporters in Arizona Monday, where he held two campaign rallies. "This is like -- I call this 'debate prep.' This is actually tougher than a debate, if you want to know the truth."
Biden, meanwhile, spent much of the week off the trail, using several days in his home state of Delaware to get ready for Thursday's face-off. In an interview Wednesday, he said that, while he hoped the debate would be substantive, he was readying for a barrage of personal attacks from Trump like those the president leveled in their first matchup.
“I hope he's gonna come prepared to talk about what he's for," Biden told Milwaukee ABC affiliate WISN. "But my guess is, he's kinda signaling that it's all going to be about personal attacks."
Even some of the president's supporters criticized his constant interruptions at the first debate in Cleveland last month, and led organizers to announce that this time, they would mute the candidates' microphones during their opponents' initial two-minute responses.
A number of the president's allies called on him to let Biden speak more.
"The upside of the muted mics is Joe Biden will be forced to speak more than 30 seconds, he will inevitably walk himself into a few disasters," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Tuesday in an interview with Fox Business.
Speaking with the "Fox & Friends" morning show on Tuesday, Trump said he "may" change his strategy and interrupt less -- but sounded undecided on his approach.
"They said if you let him talk, he'll lose his chain of thought because he's gonzo," the president said, referring to Biden. "And I understand that. But I also understand that as he's going down the line and issuing lies, you know, generally it's OK to, you know, really attack that."
Trump held at least one preparation session ahead of the first debate in late September.
Of the at least nine people who attended, six subsequently tested positive for the novel coronavirus; former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an ABC News contributor who attended, said no one wore a mask.
Others who participated who tested positive included Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior White House advisers Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, former adviser Kellyanne Conway and the president himself. Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and senior campaign adviser Jason Miller also participated.
In the first debate and for months on the campaign trail, Biden has hammered Trump over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and in poll after poll, large majorities of the American public have expressed disapproval of the president’s response.
Trump has since the start of the outbreak played down the risk from the virus and, despite worrying trends across the country and more than 211,000 deaths, has repeatedly insisted – falsely – that the United States is “rounding the final turn” of the pandemic.
He has signaled he has no plans to change that message heading into Thursday.
Given an opportunity in a friendly Sinclair town hall to say, if he got a do-over, whether he would handle things differently, Trump characteristically replied: "Not much."