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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Biden And Trump Prepare For High-Stakes Debate; Biden Preparing For Trump To Attack His Family At Debate; Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) Atlanta And Rep. Jeff Duncan Discuss About Their Take On The Upcoming Presidential Debate. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired June 26, 2024 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Tomorrow night, he could be anywhere from that much closer to another criminal trial to off the hook entirely, which is quite a backdrop, but no less significant than the stakes for both men. There's no clear leader in our latest poll of polls, and there's been no shortage of dissatisfaction for months now with both candidates.

Tomorrow night will be a chance for them to reach millions of voters at once. In the hour ahead, we're going to take a look at how they've been preparing for the moment. We'll explore the different challenges they face and the unique problem that incumbents have had during their first debates.

First though, CNN's MJ Lee and Kristen Holmes with the latest from inside both campaigns. MJ, what more are you learning about what President Biden wants to accomplish tomorrow night?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, if you put all of the policy issues aside for a second, there's one specific category of incoming from Donald Trump that the President is preparing for and bracing for, and that is personal insults that are directed not only at the President, but members of his family as well.

I'm told by one Biden advisor that at these debate prep sessions at Camp David in recent days, something that the President has been readying for are the potential insults and attacks that are thrown his way aimed at specific members of his family. And this advisor wouldn't elaborate. This is obviously a very sensitive issue.

But something that is, of course, still very fresh for the Biden family is the news from earlier this month that his son, Hunter Biden, was convicted on three separate felony gun charges, a saga that has been incredibly, deeply painful for the entire Biden family. And what is incredible is that the President has already experienced Donald Trump going after his son, Hunter Biden. This was back in the September 2020 debate when President Trump said that Hunter Biden had been dishonorably discharged for using cocaine from the military. To be clear, he was administratively discharged, which is different.

He also mocked Hunter Biden, if you'll recall, saying he couldn't get a job until President Biden had become vice president. So the defense, if you also remember, that President Biden gave at the time saying, look, yes, like a lot of American families, our family is one that has dealt with the problem of addiction. But I'm proud of my son and I love my son.

Aides had said at the time that that ended up being actually one of the most resonant moments coming out of the debate. But I think all of this just goes to show the Biden team's broader strategy of trying to prepare for anything and everything that Donald Trump might throw his way Thursday night.

COOPER: And Kristen, I understand you have some reporting on this from the Trump team as well.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Anderson, we've actually heard Donald Trump, even as recently as last week, say that he believes Hunter Biden and his legal issues were actually going to come up in the debate. And likely he means because he would bring them up. We know this is something that he often brings up at rallies, at various events, and even with donors talking about Hunter Biden, talking about his legal issues, linking it back to President Joe Biden.

I have talked to a number of people in Trump's orbit who are hoping that he stays away from this line of attacks. They understand that Donald Trump himself can be increasingly nasty, that he tends to go very, very personal.

Obviously, President Biden, from MJ's reporting, is preparing for that. But what they are hoping he does is stays away from that and instead focuses just on their messaging. They want Donald Trump to show up at the debate on Thursday and focus on a contrast between his former administration and that of Joe Biden's, particularly when it comes to the economy and inflation, crime and immigration.

If you look at all the recent polling, that's what they're going off. It shows that Donald Trump is ahead with voters on those issues. They don't want him to dive into personal attacks nonstop. Now, obviously, a lot is going to depend on what happens on that stage Thursday. They cannot control that. But what they are hoping and telling him to do, that his best options are to stay on message and focus on the issues.

COOPER: All right. Kristen Holmes, MJ Lee, thanks so much.

With me here tonight, Republican Jeff Duncan, the former lieutenant governor of Georgia, who announced today he is now supporting President Biden, CNN Senior Political Commentator and former Trump campaign adviser, David Urban, former Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who's joining the Biden campaign as a senior adviser, also former Obama senior adviser, David Axelrod and CNN Chief National Correspondent, John King.

Obviously, David Axelrod, you have a lot of experience with President Obama in debates. You know Joe Biden as a debater. Do you expect him to try - Trump to try to get under Biden's skin with family?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do. I expect him to try and distract him. One of the interesting questions to me is the mics are going to go off when your time is up. It doesn't prevent Trump from continuing to talk ...

COOPER: Right.

AXELROD: ... and try to just - trying to distract ...

COOPER: And the podiums are eight feet apart. I don't know if that means sound is picked up, I think ...

AXELROD: Well, I don't think it's - I mean, I saw a demonstration ...

COOPER: Right.

AXELROD: ... on CNN earlier today, it didn't sound like it was being picked up. So it actually could be an odd scene if the President is responding to things that people can't hear.


But in any case, I do think that they're imperatives for both these guys. And for Joe Biden, the imperative is clearly to be engaged, active and I think on the offense and not on the defense. And for Trump, you know, the question is for Biden, can he control the event? The question for Trump is can he control himself?

The first debate last time was a disaster for Trump because he was interrupting and he was obnoxious. And I think he knows it and his advisors know it and they say he's not going to do it again. But, you know, as Mike Tyson once said, everybody has a plan until they're punched in the face. So we'll see how he responds to provocation.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I - look, I would say that any time spent on Hunter Biden is going to be viewed in most of the country as a waste of time. Now, the Trump base would love it. The Trump base would absolutely love it. He has the Trump base, right? If Donald Trump steps on that stage worried about the Trump voters, you know, he's already lost. He doesn't have to worry about them. He has them. That's why he has a slight lead in this race.

So what is the point you're going to make about Hunter Biden that's going to address any of your weaknesses or fortify your strengths, right? He is ahead in polling right now, on the economy and on immigration. What can he say about these issues to talk to the American people to say, you want me, not him. You've had three and a half years of him. You want me. He has these giant weaknesses. He needs to help.

In this stage, these two can talk about a lot better than I can. It's changing by the minute, becoming a more diverse, more suburban, more college educated state. That's Donald Trump's kryptonite. That's why he lost Georgia in 2020. Because they - does he have the character? What about January 6th? What's your commitment to democracy? That's what they want to hear him talk about. They want to see if he's learned any lessons. They don't want to hear him talk about Hunter Biden.

And the President has a giant challenge. He's an incumbent president in a country that's very unhappy with the direction we are heading. So number one, he has to put on a vigorous performance to quiet any doubts about his age or at least turn the volume down on those doubts about his age. But I would argue, most importantly from my travels, he has to look the American people in the eye and talk about cost of living in a way that is relevant to them.

I say cost of living, not inflation, because people are talking about rent. They're talking about, my house is worth a lot more money than when I bought it. And I actually refinanced at a good rate. I'm great. But I've had a kid or two since then and I want to buy a bigger house, but I can't. Because all the prices have gone up and the mortgage rates have gone up.

Groceries are still high. Even a lot of Biden supporters complain about supermarket sticker shock. He sometimes gets defensive and says the numbers are good. The numbers are better. The economy is great. That's the wrong strategy. People don't feel that.

So I - they should focus on fortifying their strengths and addressing they both have glaring weaknesses. Hunter Biden, to me, 60 voters I've talked to in 10 states, they would view it as a waste of time.

AXELROD: And you're an incumbent and there's a 65 percent or 70 percent of people say the country's on the wrong track, you do not want the election to be a referendum. You want to make it a choice. That has to be the imperative for the President tomorrow.

COOPER: What are you expecting, Mayor Bottoms?

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D) ATLANTA: Yes, I think this election will be about not just the future, but it's going to be about the past. And we are in a different situation here because we've got a guy who served as president before. I was mayor while he was president. It was a pretty traumatic experience.

And I think people need to be reminded. I think it's human nature for us to try and move on from trauma. But 2020, the pandemic, the way he talked about injecting people with bleach, Charlottesville, there are good people on both sides, appointing three Supreme Court justices who have now overturned Roe v. Wade and I can go on and on and on.

I think we have to remind people of that, but also reminding people of how this administration has delivered and how it will continue to deliver going forward.

COOPER: David Urban, one of the disadvantages President Biden has now is that people need to be, to her point, people need to be reminded of things President Biden - President Trump said ...


COOPER: ... said four years ago, as opposed to things that Biden has done now.

URBAN: You know, and John, and David and the Mayor make a good point, right?

So President Biden has a record this time. He didn't have a record to run on. He didn't have a record to be attacked in those first two debates. President Trump totally did not do a good job in the first debate in 2020. The second debate, he reported himself very well and by all accounts, probably won. No one was tuning in.

If that Donald Trump shows up tomorrow night here and addresses those issues, like John says, if he comes out and says, listen, I'm going to pardon Hunter Biden, which I'd love to see, right? Says, I'll pardon Hunter Biden. I think that'd be a really wise move on his part.

Said, look, just like me, Hunter Biden wouldn't have been prosecuted if his name wasn't Biden. If I wouldn't have been prosecuted if mine name wasn't Donald Trump, so I'm going to see through this. I'm going to remove the shenanigans. I'd love for him to see to do that. That's how you bring up his name and look compassionate.

And I think you talk about those kitchen table issues, the people in America, despite Joe Biden's best efforts to fight, you know, everyone in the White House trying to sell their accomplishments. People in America don't buy it, poll after poll after poll. To David's point, wrong track, right? He's unpopular. Inflation's too much. Inflation's too expensive. The rent's too damn high.


Nobody cares about democracy. Nobody cares about these bigger issues when you can't fill up your gas tank and send your kids to summer camp. That's what I think is going to be on the ballot - on the debate stage tomorrow. If Trump could focus on that, he gets the W.

COOPER: Jeff, I mean, you are a lifelong Republican. You and Congressman Adam Kinzinger and another Republican, this morning endorsed President Biden after endorsing him last month, this morning, you endorsed him, I guess, last month. The two of you appeared at a Biden campaign event. And one of the things you said, you said, let's take the next four years as Republicans and build and heal a new party, a GOP 2.0. How can President Biden appeal to more people like you?

REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R-SC): Well, first of all, welcome to Georgia, the home of the safest, fairest, the most legal elections in the country. We can prove it and we have proved it. And the answer to that question is Donald Trump's in a box.

Forty five percent of this country loves to hear what he says. But it's appalling to the rest of the country. There's really no opportunity for him to build a bridge to that 10 percent in the middle that actually are paying attention, that care, that are trying to come to grips as a Republican, lifelong Republican. They're trying to come to grips with showing up and vote for a Democrat for the first time. I think Joe Biden has a better opportunity to do that. As John talked

about this economy, this is the tale of two stories. Some people wake up and this is the worst economy they could possibly imagine trying to afford a house or rent or groceries. Some folks are waking up and this is a golden time for them. Their 401Ks are overflowing, their houses, their jobs are secure.

I think President Biden has to extend an olive branch to those folks in the middle and talk with a very high articulate voice as to where the economy - because if you're one of those folks sitting on a bunch of assets, you don't want somebody to rip the scab off really quickly and change the deflection. But if you can't afford groceries with a $20 bill (INAUDIBLE) ...

URBAN: Yes, to that point, he has to admit that he's got a problem, right? That's the first he's going to say.

AXELROD: Yes, I know ...

DUNCAN: And I think that's the olive branch. I think we have to talk about spending in a way that says Donald Trump spent $8 trillion we didn't have and he's a fake Republican for doing that.

AXELROD: Elections - this is one place where I have to take a little bit of exception with my friend, the mayor. I don't think elections are about the past. Elections are about the future and I think where the President has to go is bring that sort of famous empathy of his. Talk about what people are going through, but also talk about what he's doing and what Trump would do. Talk about what he's doing to lower health care costs and Trump wanting to decommission the Affordable Care Act. Talk about what he did to lower prescription drugs and what Trump wants to do with that. Talk about the fact that he wants to cut taxes for working families who have children while Trump wants to give another big tax cut to billionaires.

I mean, there are, I don't know, issue after issue, there are comparatives about what the future would look like with these two candidates. Joe Biden has to go in there with that mindset. He did it four years ago, but it's easier when you're a challenger.

COOPER: We've got to pick this up after a short break. We're going to have more with the team.

Ahead tonight, much on - much more on how each side is preparing. Also, more polling, which only raises the stakes for President Biden tomorrow night and how the last Biden Trump debates affected the unique rules on this one with moments like this.



KRISTEN WELKER, MODERATOR: ... let me ask my question to you and then you'll ...

TRUMP: But could I just - one thing? Excuse me just for one second, please.

WELKER: I do want to turn to - 10 seconds, Mr. President. Ten seconds.

TRUMP: It's a difficult political statement.

WELKER: WE do need to move on.

TRUMP: They left me a mess.





TRUMP: Give me a name. Go ahead.

CHRIS WALLACE: White supremacist and right ...

TRUMP: Who would you like me to condemn?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: White supremacists. The Proud Boys.

TRUMP: Who ...

WALLACE: White supremacist and right-wing militia.

BIDEN: Proud Boys.

TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.


COOPER: A pivotal moment in the first of two Biden-Trump debates four years ago. The next pivotal moments could come tomorrow night with high stakes to match. We showed you the head-to-head matchup in the latest CNN poll of polls at the top of the broadcast. It shows there's no clear leader in the race at this stage.

In that same poll of polls, President Biden's job approval stands at just 38 percent, which interestingly is the same as what Donald Trump had four years ago in the race he would go on, of course, to lose. Obviously, different times, different polls, different factors driving them, but two unpopular incumbents then and now, the difference this time, an early debate and a chance to change minds.

Back now with the panel. I mean, with a job approval rating like this, obviously, the President has a job cut out for him.

KING: And if you are an incumbent, you cannot be under 40 and expect to win. You just can't. Sorry. Is it possible? Sure. Will it happen? I doubt it. He's got to get above 40. I would argue he's got to get to 43 and if he gets up to - if he gets to - if he can get to 45 ...

AXELROD: That's climbing, John.

KING: Yes, I know, right? That's the problem. That's the problem. He's below 40, because he's underwater on the big issues. He's underwater on the economy. He's underwater on the border. He's underwater on the things people care most about right now. And so what can he do to change this dynamic? That's hard on one night. This is a huge night. He has a chance to do it. It's hard.

I just - one other point, he's at 38 percent approval rating. He's in the mid-30s to high-30s in some of the battleground states like Nevada. As an incumbent president to be in the 30s, that's telling you something. That tells you the American people want a new car and they're shopping very aggressively for something new.

And the other point, Jeff just made the point, Donald Trump's got 45 percent. He can't grow. Bill Clinton won with 43 percent because the third-party candidate mattered that year, a guy named Ross Perot. The third-party candidates are not going to be at this debate, but they matter this year.

Trump can win at 45 and 46 in some of these states if the third-party candidates stay anywhere near the numbers they're at right now.

COOPER: President Biden does have a tendency to want to do deep dives on things he has done. All presidents want to do that.

AXELROD: That is the curse of the incumbent president. Incumbent presidents show up at these debates. They want - they know a lot, they want to defend their record. We know that he is - he - A, he's apt to do that, to talk about how strong the economy is, to talk about other elements of this.

They need to pull all that wiring out. That's the - and he needs to engage with where people's minds are at and talk about the future and what he's trying to do to help them, rather than - you know, history will judge you after the fact. Right now, you got to go after the voters.

BOTTOMS: But right - we're looking at polls, which are a snapshot in time. We know 2020, he was down in the polls. President Biden was down in the polls, and we know how that turned out. He does have a record to run on, and he can talk about what he's going to do going forward. Fifteen million - let me make sure I have this number right - 15 million jobs created, lowest unemployment rate in 50 years, capping insulin costs for seniors. That's a really big deal and an opportunity to build on these things.


The American people aren't looking at a new car in Donald Trump. He's a used car that we've driven before, and it wasn't a good ride.

(CROSSTALK) KING: It's a great point that what makes this race unique is that I -

if there - I truly believe right now, if there were a mainstream Republican, somebody, a former lieutenant governor who just endorsed a Democratic president, could endorse, you'd have a much different race. We would not have a static race. And with a 38 percent approval rate, President Biden would be behind by a lot more than he's behind right now.

However, you make the case, and there are a lot of good numbers, and the President, in a very tough environment in Washington, has passed some incredible achievements. Republicans might not like them, but they're big achievements. They create jobs. They put money into the climate. They build roads and bridges. The American people don't feel it. That's my point. When you travel the country, they're not aware of it.

DUNCAN: This election is going to be determined by a group of folks that don't like the - almost every one of Joe Biden's policies, or a majority of those policies. But they just are going to have to wake up and feel like he's a safer option to keep the trains on time as a country, to keep us safe, focus on the big issues.

But that's the whole point to the GOP 2.0. I think we have to vision cast - the Biden campaign has to vision cast into this group of - I don't know, call it 10-, 20 million Republicans that are disgruntled like I am and Adam Kinzinger and others. And vision cast to say, look, your fastest pathway to success for GOP 2.0 is to beat Donald Trump right here, right now. Don't sit on the couch. Don't skip the election because you just can't hold your nose and vote for a Democrat. Show up, vote, make a difference right here, right now.

That 10 million audience, if that happens, then I think you overcome some of those impossibles (INAUDIBLE) ...


URBAN: Look, I just don't - I don't see it. I mean, driving around Pennsylvania, driving around Florida, John's been there. You show me those hundred thousand Republicans that are on that bubble. Pennsylvania race is going to be 50,000 to 75,000 votes either way, right? That's what it's going to be.

And this race feels a lot more like '16 than it did '20. Madam Mayor, you know, I was on the ground in '16 in Pennsylvania and '20 in Pennsylvania, '24, this feels a lot like '16, not like '20. My - yes.

AXELROD: So my question to you - and you're out there, so you know - my question is, okay, but are they up for it? The Mayor mentions pharmaceutical prices and the $35 insulin. Are they up for repealing that? Because that's what Trump has proposed. Are they up the - this - another $2 trillion now to, I guess, be $4 trillion tax cut for billionaires and - or would they, like, help with child care? I mean ...

URBAN: You're right, David. But I don't know if Joe Biden's going to make that point, right? Donald Trump's going to walk that and say ... AXELROD: I think he should.

URBAN: ... he's going to say, no tax on tips. Mic drop, right? That's a catchy phrase that's going to be all over the Internet Friday morning. I promise you.


COOPER: All right. Thanks, everybody.

Coming up, what we learned about each candidates' debating skills from the last two debates they had. More ahead.



COOPER: The rule changes we've been discussing for tomorrow night's debate came about in large part because of the last debates between then-candidate Biden and then-President Trump four years ago. Their first debate was called by a number of observers as the worst in presidential history. Our Randi Kaye has some of the highlights and lowlights from the last two times these men met on the debate stage.



TRUMP: Wait a minute, Joe. Let me shut you down for a second.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In their first debate in September 2020, Donald Trump interrupted Joe Biden more than 100 times.


BIDEN: ... make sure ...

WALLACE: Mr. President, can you let him finish, sir?

BIDEN: Do you have any idea what this clown's doing?

TRUMP: Under that thing, that socialized thing ...


KAYE (voice over): Biden's response? Eye rolls and head shakes. Until Trump butted in during his attempt to answer a question about the Supreme Court, Biden had had enough.


BIDEN: The question is ...

TRUMP: Supreme Court justice - radical left ...

BIDEN: The question - will you shut up, man?

TRUMP: Who is on - listen, who is on your list, Joe?

BIDEN: This is so ...

WALLACE: All right, gentlemen, I think we've ended this ...

BIDEN: This is so unpresidential.


KAYE (voice over): The debate quickly went off the rails, neither candidate pulling any punches.


TRUMP: Did you use the word smart? You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don't ever use the word smart with me. Don't ever use that word.

BIDEN: Show us your tax returns.

TRUMP: Because I paid $38 million one year. I paid $27 million one year.

BIDEN: Show us your tax returns.


KAYE (voice over): As the two debated taxes and the economy, Biden let loose.


TRUMP: And, by the way, you were a ...

BIDEN: You're the worst president America has ever had. Come on.

TRUMP: Hey, Joe. Let me just ...


KAYE (voice over): After a portion of the debate focused on race ...


BIDEN: This is a president who has used everything as a dog whistle, to try to generate racists hatred, racist division.


KAYE (voice over): Before it was over, Trump issued what sounded like a warning if the election didn't go his way.


TRUMP: But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can't go along with that.


KAYE (voice over): At their second debate, just weeks before Election Day in 2020, the two faced off on dozens of issues, including health care, immigration, and again, race. Trump tried to blame Biden for failing to solve the problem of systemic racism after decades in office.


TRUMP: You know, Joe, I ran because of you. I ran because of Barack Obama, because you did a poor job. If I thought you did a good job, I would've never run.


KAYE (voice over): Trump also tried to defend his own record on race.


TRUMP: I am the least racist person. I can't even see the audience because it's so dark, but I don't care who's in the audience. I'm the least racist person in this room.

BIDEN: Abraham Lincoln here is one of the most racist presidents we've had in modern history.

This guy has a dog whistle about as big as a foghorn.


KAYE (voice over): Keep in mind, at their first debate, when Trump was pressed to denounce a white supremacist group that has openly endorsed violence, he stonewalled it.


TRUMP: Go on. Give me a name. Give me a name. Go ahead.

CHRIS WALLACE: White supremacist and right ...

TRUMP: Who would you like me to condemn?

BIDEN: White supremacists. The Proud Boys.

TRUMP: Who ...

WALLACE: White supremacist and right-wing militia.

BIDEN: Proud Boys.

TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE (voice over): On immigration, Biden zeroed in on the hundreds of migrant children who had been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.


BIDEN: What happened? Parents were ripped - their kids were ripped from their arms and separated, and now they cannot find over 500 of the sets of those parents, and those kids are alone. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to go. It's criminal.


KAYE (voice over): Trump saw an opening and fired back.


BIDEN: They are so well taken care of. They're in facilities that were so clean.

WELKER: But some of them haven't been reunited with their families.

TRUMP: They have gotten such good - but just ask one question. Who built the cages?


KAYE (voice over): With just hours to go until CNN's presidential debate, Trump and Biden are once again sharpening their lines.


TRUMP: You're wrong. You're wrong. I never said that at all.

BIDEN: Actually, you did, so.

TRUMP: You made it up. Oh, really? Oh, really?


KAYE (voice over): Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: It's stressful even watching it. Joining us is Tevi Troy, who, among his many senior roles in the second Bush administration, prepared the debate books for both Bush and Cheney in 2004. Back with us as well is David Axelrod.

David, I know one moment in particular stood out from that first debate, one reference in Randi's piece, and I just want to play it again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: Did you use the word smart? So, you said you went to Delaware

State but you forgot the name of your college. You didn't go to Delaware State; you graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don't ever use the word smart with me; don't ever use that word.



COOPER: What was it about that moment for you?

AXELROD: (Inaudible) nasty. I think it really landed badly with people. Obviously, Joe Biden had been vice president of the United States. He was up there and he was mixing it up pretty effectively with Trump. And so that -- that's the whole -- that whole performance seemed like a churlish kid and it really -- it really hurt Trump. That is what he has to resist in this debate. There was a focus group where some guy who voted for Trump for several -- both times said I don't know if I can vote for again, the moderator, as to why he said this, because living with Trump as president is like having a neighbor with a leaf blower that he runs 24/7. You never get any rest. Trump has to dial that down and focus on his case, or he will hurt himself again.

COOPER: Tevi, what are you expecting tomorrow? Because I mean, both these men now are four years older than the last time they debated.

TEVI TROY, PREPARED DEBATE BOOKS FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH AND VP CHENEY IN 2004: Yeah, I agree with David that Trump was nasty last time and it hurt him. And I actually think there are three reasons why Trump may have more of an advantage this time. First, Biden is older, you can see it. And in his debate prep, he may get overwhelmed. Reagan in 1984 was overwhelmed by his debate advisers and at one point, he even said to David Stockman who was playing Walter Mondale, will you shut up, which is what -- remember, what Biden said to Trump in 2020.

So, he might get overwhelmed. Another thing is Trump has been more disciplined, if you can believe it, in this campaign. In 2020, he didn't listen to his debate advisers. And then third is there is a history of incumbent presidents being cocky in their first debate and losing the first debate. It has happened to Obama in 2012, Reagan in 1984, Ford in 1976, Carter in 1980. It's a recurrent thing. And sometimes, the presidents are just not ready to go mix it up with someone the first time.

COOPER: And David, I mean, you were with Obama in 2012. You knew about the problem with incumbents.


COOPER: And yet, even then, he did badly in that (inaudible).

AXELROD: Yeah. Now, I will say, I think we over --we did over-prepare him. We yielded to his desire for a lot of material and we gave them a lot of material, and he was preparing as if it was a supreme court argument and that was mistake. But I'll tell you something, Ron Klain was leading that debate prep and Ron is as experienced and I think as good as anyone. He know -- he has lived there. Biden, by the way --

COOPER: He's reading this debate prep for 2020 (ph).

AXELROD: He is leading Biden's debate prep. I think that they know exactly what the trap is and they're going to work very, very hard on trying to disabuse him of the notion to do that and to focus instead on his case, and the case is that he's working for people and their future. Trump is a guy who is consumed by himself and vengeance and retribution, and that's not going to help anybody.

COOPER: I mean, Tevi, one of the things that's so fascinating about out these debates and particularly this one is, no matter what the preparation is, there are so many unknowns and so many different ways this could go depending on what version of each of these two men show up on the stage that night.

TROY: Yeah, that's absolutely right. It's like athletes in any sporting event, you don't know what they're going to be like on game day. Trump was given advice in 2020 to led Biden do the talking, and that he would maybe hang himself with too much rope there. But that's not what happened, because Trump just couldn't let it go. He thought that if he pressed Biden off because of Biden's age, Biden would melt down and that's just not going to happen. You can't count on your other -- on your opponent melting down in these situations.

COOPER: I want to play a moment when -- that President Biden were told by the reporting from MJ Lee that he may be preparing for any attacks on his family. This is a moment when Candidate Biden defended his son, Hunter.


TRUMP: Hunter got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged --

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's not true. He wasn't dishonorably discharged.

TRUMP: -- for cocaine use. And he didn't have a job until you became vice president. Once you became vice president --

BIDEN: None of that is true.

TRUMP: -- he made a fortune in Ukraine, in China, in Moscow.

BIDEN: That is simply not true.

TRUMP: And various other places. He made a fortune.

BIDEN: My son -- my son --

TRUMP: And he didn't have a job.

BIDEN: My son, like a lot of people -- like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He has over taken it. He has fixed it, he has worked on it, and I'm proud of him. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: David Axelrod, what do you make of that moment?

AXELROD: Well, look, I think that moment landed well. Biden's response landed well. Later in the second debate, this came up, I think it was in the second debate, and he flatly denied the whole laptop story that this was Hunter's laptop and (inaudible) into the notion that this was a Russian operation and so on. That could come back in this debate and you've heard some of the Trump surrogates suggesting that Trump might ask him about that.

So, Trump may come back with them. Dave Urban said earlier or something to that, I think that the Biden people have to be alert to. Trump may come at him on Hunter in a completely different way, which is to say I think he got a raw deal on this gun thing.


I don't think that he deserved that. And I don't understand how you could not pardon your own son?

COOPER: David Axelrod, Tevi Troy, thank you very much. Up next, we go to the debate stage itself. Our John Berman is there to walk us through the all-new format tomorrow night. We'll be right back.



BIDEN: I'm not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he is a liar --

TRUMP: -- but you --

BIDEN: I just want make sure that --

TRUMP: Joe, you are the liar.

BIDEN: I want to make sure --

TRUMP: (Inaudible) last in your class, not first in your class.


BIDEN: Oh, God. I want to make sure --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, can you let him finish, sir?

BIDEN: He doesn't know how to do that.


COOPER: Well, the new format tomorrow night is designed to prevent that kind of constant interruption while candidates are trying to answer the moderators. It's one of many new format changes. John Berman joins us now from inside the debate hall. So John, how is it working? What's it like?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, 24 hours from now and a few minutes, Anderson, you're going to have a president and a former president standing on the same stage, pretty close to each other. These lecterns are just eight feet apart. I can basically touch them at the same time with my arms out.

President Biden will be standing over here on the right side of your screen. He won the coin flip; he chose this side. President Trump will be standing -- former President Trump will be standing right over here. And the moderators, Dana Bash and Jake Tapper, they're going to be right here facing the candidates. And that's it. That's pretty much the only people in the room, besides the technical crew here.


No audience at all, and that's a change. Now, the candidates will be able to bring notepads and pens, but no notes as it were. They have to be blank when they get here. They can each bring water. They have to stand up for the whole debate. There will be two commercial breaks where the candidates get a break, but they can't talk to the campaign staff. I suppose they could talk to each other, although that might be a little bit awkward.

The way the question-and-answer stuff is going to work here, Anderson, the moderators will ask a question, candidate A will get two minutes to respond. Candidate B gets a one-minute rebuttal, and then Candidate A gets a one-minute response to that. At any point, the moderators, Jake and Dana, they can ask a follow-up question a minute long, press a little bit further, again, and then it will go back and forth between the two candidates with that kind of time frame.

COOPER: And how do candidates know how much time is left to speak? What do they actually see?

BERMAN: That's a great question. Let me show you. It's a little dark in here because the crew has been setting up all day and they don't have all the lights on. But on every camera and really throughout the entire studio, there are lights like this one right here. When there's 15 seconds left for the candidates, that will light up yellow. When there's five seconds left, it will start blinking red. And when time is up, Anderson, it goes to full red. And when it goes to full read, the microphone turns off. Their microphone will no longer be on. And that's a big change from before.

Yes, the candidates are a little bit close to each other. You might be able to pick up some sound on the other person's mic, but by and large, when you're done, when time is up, your microphone is off, it's the other candidate's turn to speak.

COOPER: So that's -- I mean that really is a first. The mic actually shuts off. It's not somebody waiting to make a decision whether to turn off a mic; it just -- it shuts off when the red light is fully on?

BERMAN: The candidates have agreed to these terms, the strict time limits. When your time is up and you've been warned with a yellow light, a blinking red light, and then a full red light, time is up and you will no longer be heard. You'll be a little bit far away. You might be able to hear some sound there, but by and large, it is the other candidate who will be heard at that point.

COOPER: All right. John Berman, thanks very much. Now, to a room that will be key to allies of both candidates immediately following the debate. CNN Senior Political Analyst, Mark Preston joins us from the post-debate spin room. So Mark, what is it like?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm going to tell you what, Anderson, it is quiet here except for the vacuuming because what we're seeing right now is this place is just about ready to be done. 800 reporters from 173 different news organizations representing 35 countries. We talk about how much interest there is in the United States for the selection.

Who are we kidding? This election is going to be watched all across the country. We're going to see news organizations from all over the place. Now, as you say this is the place where it's quiet right now -- it is real quiet right now -- tomorrow night, at about this time, it is going to be incredibly loud and then after the debate, this is the place you come for the campaign to either try to fix what your candidate said, if it was a mistake, or want to come out and tout how great your candidate did.

We'll see some big names in here tomorrow, perhaps the likes of Gavin Newsom, of course, California Governor, he'll be here with Joe Biden. We've heard from Donald Trump saying that he's going to have his surrogates here, the list of folks that he is considering to put on his ticket to be his vice presidential nominee. So again, tomorrow, this is the place where the narrative from what happens on that debate stage that we just saw Berman on, starts to take place and carries us through the summer. Anderson?

COOPER: All right. Mark Preston, thanks so much. In a moment, John King joins us again. He's been traveling across the country talking to voters in nearly a dozen states so far for his "All Over the Map" series. What he has been hearing about both candidates and the issues that mean the most to voters right now is next.



COOPER: In almost 24 hours, here in Atlanta, President Biden and former President Trump will take on the stage for the CNN Presidential Debate. For ten months now, our John King has been talking with voters around the country "All Over the Map" in every way, a fitting name for his special series. Tonight, John has a look at what's on voters' minds going into the debate.


KING (voice-over): Ray Flores owns a handful of restaurants in battleground Arizona and is unimpressed with both men who will share the debate stage.

RAY FLORES, ARIZONA VOTER: At this juncture, they both had four years and I'm just eight years more frustrated than I was before. I wish we had a candidate that had more of a middle-of-life and middle-of-the- road perspective. And I'm very uncomfortable right now with either choice.

KING (voice-over): We hear that a lot. Our "All Over the Map" project is at 60 voters and counting, across ten states. Yes, President Biden has his share of true believers.


KING: You like him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. I think he's done a great job.

KING (voice-over): So does Donald Trump.

CHRIS MUDD, IOWA VOTER: I liked what happened in our economy for four years when Donald Trump was president. I liked the America first mindset.

KING (voice-over): But many voters dislike or have doubts about both, which makes this debate a critical campaign crossroads.

KIM CAVALIERE, GOERGIA VOTER: I just don't feel comfortable with Biden's age and I don't feel comfortable with Trump's mouth.

KING (voice-over): For the incumbent, the cost of living is a giant challenge.

KING: Are your day-to-day costs the same now as a year ago?

FLORES: Oh, no. They're higher.

KING (voice-over): Rising rents came up a lot in Milwaukee and in Las Vegas and in other places, Biden must dominate, like Atlanta.

CAREY FULKS, GEORGIA VOTER: Everything here in Georgia is so expensive, I can only afford so much with whatever job I find.

KING (voice-over): Even strong Biden supporters complain of supermarket's sticker shock.

WALTER ROBINSON JR., MICHIGAN VOTER: It is just me and my wife and it is $200 every time I go to the grocery store.

KING (voice-over): The president's age is already part of the campaign debate.

SUMMER MATKIN, MICHIGAN VOTER: No matter how many Taylor Swift references you make, you will never understand us.

KING (voice-over): A bigger Biden problem with younger voters is anger at his handling of the Hamas-Israel conflict. IBRAHIM GHAZAL, MICHIGAN VOTER: I don't think anybody wants -- nobody wants to vote for Biden. If Biden wants to get certain votes, he needs to change course.

KING (voice-over): Trump though also has a long list of weaknesses that could be debate flashpoints.


Joan London just left the Republican Party and registered as an independent.

JOAN LONDON, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: I had more of a positive vision, just a different emphasis. And I'm -- and what I'm seeing in the national party, just didn't reflect my values the way it had been.

KING (voice-over): Linda Rooney hasn't ruled out voting for Trump, but January 6th is an obstacle.

LINDA ROONEY, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: I remember watching it on TV and I couldn't believe that it was happening and I was I angry that he didn't -- that Trump didn't say something -- that Trump didn't stop it.

KING: And yet, you still might vote for him?

ROONEY: I might. Yeah.

KING (voice-over): Matt Vrahiotes is a Georgia Christian conservative pondering a third-party vote because of doubts about Trump's character.

MATT VRAHIOTES, GEORGIA VOTER: Honestly, I wish that there was another candidate that would have come through the primaries instead of being just Donald Trump.

KING (voice-over): Yes, many minds are already made up. But for those with doubts about both Biden and Trump, this is a giant test.


COOPER: John is with me now. How critical, I mean, do you think this debate is for a lot of those undecided voters?

KING (on camera): I think it's enormously important because they're kind of stuck. Lieutenant Governor Duncan made the point earlier, a lot of people don't like either one. There are a lot of people who are soft Biden or soft Trump, a lot of people who are still looking around at the third-party candidates. So let me start with the president.

Young voters, Black voters, Hispanic voters, those are the biggest cracks in his coalition. He needs to do something. You hear it, especially when you talk to the young voters, on our Vegas trip from Latino voters. They want to hear the president speak in a way relevant to them, not talk like a Washington politician. And then if he can shore up the Democratic coalition, then he can reach out to those Republicans like Linda Rooney. She said she cannot forgive Trump for January 6th, but she might vote for him because she's a Republican by DNA and it's really hard to vote -- to re-elect a Democratic president.

For Trump, I think it's really how we comports himself because there are a whole lot of Republicans, even Republicans Haley voters, other Republicans who voted for Biden in 2020, who again don't want to vote to re-elect Biden. They're Republicans; they want to be Republicans. They want the lower taxes; they want -- they think Trump would close the border, but they can't stand the chaos of Trump. And so, on the debate stage, can he hold himself together?

I am fascinated to hear from them after tomorrow night, and I'm fascinated to see, do support for the third-party candidates go down after this debate? Do people feel more comfortable with their choices, or does it go back up? If it started -- if the third-party numbers start to go up again, this race gets even more and more complicated. Right now, it's static, if look at the polling, mostly static. But just beneath that, Anderson, COVID hangover, inflation concerns, there is so much volatility just below the surface. I think the debate might pull that up.

COOPER: Yeah. John King, thank you.

KING (on camera): Thank you.

COOPER: We'll be watching. Up next, more on that debating pitfall we've been talking about tonight, one that so many incumbent presidents had fallen victim to, going back decades.



COOPER: Our guest Tevi Troy mentioned it a moment ago, the so-called incumbent curse which sitting presidents have fallen prey to, not just for years, but for decades. Presidential debate history, CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more on that.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joe Biden was on clean-up duty, the morning after President Obama turned in a debate performance so bad that even Obama called it a stinker.

BIDEN: Can sit there and say, you know, I would've done that or I would have done this. I hear people say that. Well, let's like standing up before 20, 30, 40, 40, 50, 60, 70 million people.

ZELENY (voice-over): It was 2012, a month before the election when then-Vice President Biden searched for a charitable way to describe Obama's flat-footed performance against Mitt Romney.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I suspect that on social security, we've got a somewhat similar position. ZELENY (voice-over): The memory good that tortured debate lingers in the background on the eve of Biden's first encounter in four years with Donald Trump at a Thursday nights showdown in Atlanta. A string of sitting presidents have been tripped up by their first debate.


ZELENY (voice-over): Ronald Reagan rambled during his closing argument.

REAGAN: I think that all of you, or not everyone, those people that have -- are in those pockets of poverty and haven't caught up, I think that the most of the people in this country would say, yes, they are better off than they were four years ago.

ZELENY (voice-over): George H.W. Bush glanced at his watch and sounded out of touch.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, (R) FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you suggesting that if somebody has means that the national debt doesn't affect them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I am saying is?

H.W. BUSH: I'm not sure I get it, help me with the question and I'll try to answer it.

ZELENY (voice-over): The trappings of office are designed to keep the leader of the free world away from face-to-face confrontation. But the debate stage elevates the challenger, often rattling and visibly annoying the Commander-in-Chief. So George W. Bush smirked and scowled at times, striking a defensive tone.

GEORGE W. BUSH, (R) FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've shown the American people I know how to lead. I have -- I understand everybody in this country doesn't agree with the decisions I've made.

ZELENY (voice-over): Most sitting presidents bristle at the mere process of practice and preparing. Obama went to Nevada for debate camp, but visited the Hoover Dam and dropped by a campaign office, making his disdain clear for what advisors were asking him to do.

OBAMA: Basically, they're keeping me indoors all the time. It's a drag.


OBAMA: I -- they are making me do my homework.

ZELENY (voice-over): It wasn't until after the debate where he often looked down at his notebook that he accepted responsibility for a lackluster showing with Romney. And four years ago, Trump himself fell victim to the first debate curse when he arrived in Cleveland looking slightly unwell. He tested positive for COVID a few days later. But that night on stage, he proceeded to heckle (ph) and interrupt Biden. BIDEN: Question is --

TRUMP: (Inaudible) justice --

BIDEN: The question is --

TRUMP: Radical left --

BIDEN: Will you shut up, man?

TRUMP: Who is on -- listen, who is on your list, Joe?

ZELENY (voice-over): While history books are filled with missteps on stage, never before have two one-term presidents stood side-by-side in a televised debate asking Americans to give them a second term.


ZELENY (on camera): Of course, most presidents are used to the deference of Air Force One and the Oval Office but history may not be our best guide here. Of course, the politics now are far more vitriolic and rough and tumble. But President Biden has been practicing at Camp David, the presidential retreat outside Washington, for this very reason. There's no American politician alive who has debated as often. He knows well that first-term presidential curse.