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Trump heads into final debate with little formal prep, expects to focus on Hunter Biden, China

Trump allies are hoping that if Biden is given more time to speak in this debate, he might utter a gaffe or give answers that could hurt him with voters.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — President Donald Trump is expected by aides and advisers to raise Hunter Biden and China throughout the final presidential debate here on Thursday and has been counseled by allies not to interrupt as much as he did in the first faceoff.

Trump allies are hoping that if Joe Biden is given more time to speak than in the first debate — when Trump repeatedly interrupted him — it will provide an opportunity for Biden to make a gaffe or give answers they believe will hurt him with voters. It’s unclear though how much Trump will follow that strategy, since he disregarded much of the advice he was given before the first debate.

Trump has done even less traditional debate prep for this second and final contest, according to multiple people familiar with the discussions. A few back-and-forth practice meetings took place on Air Force One over the last week while the president was traveling to battleground states. Those sparring rounds were more topic-oriented discussions with aides, however, and did not resemble formal sessions.

“What am I doing to prepare? I'm doing this,” Trump told reporters on Monday. “I've done very well in debates. And, you know, you do what you do. You just do what you do. "

The team that helped prepare the president last time did not reassemble this time around, partially because several of them were still recovering from the coronavirus, including outside adviser Kellyanne Conway and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

“The president prepares for debates by being president,” said campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh.

A worker cleans newly installed plexiglass shields on the debate stage on Oct. 21, 2020 ahead of the presidential debate in Nashville, Tenn.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Unlike the first debate, Trump and Biden will have their microphones muted during the two minute period that they are given to respond to the moderator's questions. Trump has indicated he is not pleased with the new microphone-muting adjustment and says he will plan to speak up when he feels it’s appropriate.

Another change to the debate will be two plexiglass barriers between the candidates’ lecterns on stage, an adjustment made “at the recommendation of the commission’s medical advisers,” said a co-chair on the Commission on Presidential Debates, Frank Fahrenkopf Jr.

“I’m not sure that the Trump campaign wanted it," he said on MSNBC.