Trump rehashes baseless claims about Biden in barrage of pre-debate bluster

Donald Trump has unleashed a fusillade of baseless accusations against Joe Biden and CNN moderators ahead of Thursday’s first US presidential debate in an apparent “pre-bunking” exercise designed to have his excuses ready-made if he is declared the loser.

In a familiar rehash of tactics used in previous campaigns, the presumptive Republican nominee has intensified demands that Biden should take a drug test and accused him of being “higher than a kite” in last January’s state of the union address, when the president won praise for an energetic performance.

“DRUG TEST FOR CROOKED JOE BIDEN??? I WOULD, ALSO, IMMEDIATELY AGREE TO ONE!!!” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform this week.

Related: I’m worried about Biden’s debate with Trump this week | Robert Reich

The post came after Trump repeatedly told audiences that Biden would come to the debate “jacked up” after being given “a shot in the ass”.

One Trump adviser graphically illustrated the imagery of Biden needing an injection by sharing a picture of a syringe.

Even Ronny Jackson, a former White House physician under Trump and Barack Obama who is now a Republican congressman for Texas, got in on the act by writing a letter to Biden calling on him to take a drug test.

Trump has also taken aim at Jake Tapper, one of the CNN moderators in Thursday’s debate in Atlanta, repeatedly calling him “fake Tapper” in speeches and interviews.

The barbs were reinforced by the Trump campaign’s press secretary, Karoline Leavitt, on Monday when she twice attacked Tapper in an interview on the network, prompting the presenter Kasie Hunt to abruptly terminate the exchange.

Trump’s younger son, Eric, has also joined in the chorus, reinforcing the view that the attacks are part of a co-ordinated strategy to minimise the debate’s importance.

“Understand that he’s not just going to be debating Joe Biden, he’s going to be debating CNN,” Eric Trump told Fox News on Sunday, adding that the network planned to give Biden “a free pass”.

Conservative supporters of Trump have also questioned the impartiality of Dana Bash, Tapper’s co-moderator, partly by falsely stating she is married to Jeremy Bash, a former CIA chief of staff, who has been critical of the former president. In fact, the pair have not been married for 17 years.

Both lines of attack reprise well-worn Trump tactics.

The unfounded allegations of drug use by Biden appears designed to forestall a stronger-than-expected debate from the president following months in which Trump’s campaign have denigrated the president’s supposedly failing mental powers.

It echoes similar specious claims Trump made against Biden in 2020 and also against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign, when he accused her of being suspiciously “pumped up” at a presidential debate and demanded that she take a drug test before the next one.

The complaints against the moderators are also familiar. In 2020, Trump repeatedly branded Kristen Welker, the moderator of the second debate screened by NBC as a “dyed-in-the-wool, radical-left Democrat”.

“It’s called pre-bunking. He’s preparing his audience to dismiss the entire event,” Joan Donovan, a media studies professor at Boston University told the Washington Post. “It’s a communication strategy that is part of his playbook.”

Even sources sympathetic to Trump have acknowledged that the accusations may either be false or part of a planned strategy.

Maria Bartiromo, a Fox news anchor, responded sceptically to the earlier accusations by Trump supporters that Biden was taking performance-boosting drugs. “These are very serious charges. We don’t know that, we’re not doctors. We have no idea,” she told Byron Donalds, the Republican congressman for Florida, when he accused the president of being ‘jacked up”.

Referring to Trump’s criticism of Tapper, one unnamed Republican source close to the former president told the Washington Post that it was “Trump being Trump”, adding: “There’s nothing unusual about any of this stuff in terms of how it’s playing out.”

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