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Trump steps up pre-debate accusations, asks for ‘drug tests’

The comments come only two days before Trump and Biden face off in Cleveland, Ohio, for the first of the presidential debates leading up to the fiercely contested November 3 election.

The President’s attacks on his rival’s mental capacity are designed to paint the former vice-president as being unfit for office. However some Republican strategists have warned that, by lowering expectations ahead of the debate, the plan could backfire if Biden performs relatively well.

US President Donald Trump says he wants drug tests at this week's presidential debate.

US President Donald Trump says he wants drug tests at this week’s presidential debate.Credit:AP

Respected Fox News Sunday anchor Chris Wallace will moderate proceedings on Wednesday at 11am (AEST) and feature six topics over 90 minutes.

Both candidates will be grilled over their records, the issues of coronavirus, the economy, election integrity, protests, and the Supreme Court nomination.

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While Biden has spent much of his time behind closed doors in recent days prepping for the debate, Trump has continued with his gruelling schedule of travelling to battleground states for campaign rallies, where he often criticises his political rival’s stamina.

Asked during a White House press conference if his tweet about drug testing was a joke, the President doubled down, citing Biden’s occasionally patchy performances during the Democratic primaries.

Donald Trump is trailing Joe Biden in the polls as he travels around the country holding campaign rallies.

Donald Trump is trailing Joe Biden in the polls as he travels around the country holding campaign rallies.Credit:AP

“I’m not joking,” Trump said. “I’m willing to take a drug test; I think he should too.

“I think it’s something that would be appropriate, because you can’t have a president that needs that kind of help when you’ve got to deal with [Russian President] Putin and you’ve got to deal with President Xi of China and you have to deal with Kim Jong-un [of North Korea].”

It is not the first time that Trump, 74, has accused Biden, 77, of “using drugs” to enhance his debate performances – a baseless narrative that is often pushed out on social media by the President’s supporters.

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Biden, who is ahead in the polls, has generally laughed off the claims, describing them as an attempt by Trump to deflect from his own problems, such as the global pandemic that has so far killed more than 200,000 Americans.

Another sensitive topic reignited on Monday (AEST), when the New York Times obtained tax-return data showing chronic losses and years of tax avoidance by Trump. Asked about the matter, the President, who has repeatedly refused to release his tax returns, dismissed the story as “fake news”.

Wednesday’s showdown will take place as the confirmation fight over the Supreme Court intensifies. Trump named 48-year-old Catholic conservative Amy Coney Barrett as the person he wants to replace liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Ginsburg, 87, died last week of pancreatic cancer, sparking a fresh wave of political anxiety over America’s increasingly fragile democracy.

While the nomination is likely to proceed because Republicans have the numbers in the Senate, Democrats have vowed to fight the process and use the issue to highlight what they believe is at risk, including abortion rights, immigration reform, and the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“In the middle of a pandemic, Donald Trump is trying to force through confirmation of a justice who will help him destroy Obamacare,” Biden tweeted on Sunday.

“Health care is at stake. Protections for pre-existing conditions are at stake. We can’t let them win.”

Trump did little to allay those concerns, noting on Twitter: “Obamacare will be replaced with a much better, and far cheaper alternative if it is terminated in the Supreme Court. Would be a big win for the USA!”

Trump Biden 2020

Our weekly newsletter will deliver expert analysis of the race to the White House from our US correspondent Matthew Knott. Sign up for the Herald‘s newsletter here, The Age‘s here, Brisbane Timeshere and WAtoday‘s here

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