Trump’s lead just won’t budge: Why the debates may be Biden’s last shot

The presidential campaign is as frozen as the Arctic Circle.

Virtually nothing seems to melt the ice caps that have encased the race. 

The former president convicted of 34 felonies? Feels like it happened months ago, without exactly dooming the Trump candidacy.

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The current president’s son, also convicted of felonies? Now that’s deemed a mere distraction by those who used an impeachment inquiry to try to sink the Biden campaign.

Each attack, each smear, each controversy dominates the news and then quickly yields to the next real or perceived outrage, leaving little lasting impression on the shape of the race.

All this is bad news for Joe Biden, who has an anemic 38 percent approval rating and is on track to lose, despite the apparent closeness of the contest.

While Trump’s lead in such core battleground states as Michigan and Pennsylvania is often just 2 to 3 points, it’s been remarkably consistent (with the president having a slight edge in Wisconsin). If Scranton Joe can’t win Pennsylvania despite endless trips there, the election is over.

That’s why Biden abruptly challenged Trump to two debates, with the first one, on CNN, in less than 10 days. It’s really his last chance to bring some heat and shake up the race.

Now I could make the argument that the Trump team has lowered expectations for Biden to the point that if he avoids major gaffes and doesn’t fall off the stage, he wins. The CNN rules – two-minute answers, no notes, muting the opponent’s mike – will also favor the president.

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But debates can be overrated. Mitt Romney clobbered Barack Obama in their first debate and it didn’t matter. Hillary Clinton arguably won two or even three of her debates against Trump and it didn’t matter. 

The pressure is on Biden, who’s drilling with former top aide Ron Klain, to show that he’s aggressive and feisty as well as knowledgeable. Trump, who is doing only informal prep, will be hailed by his base no matter what he says or does.

In short, it will take something highly unusual to change many minds. Most Americans already know what they think of these guys.

The same goes for the Trump veepstakes. As Donald Trump told me, it doesn’t matter much because people vote for the top of the ticket. I think Doug Burgum has a somewhat better chance than when I first interviewed him three weeks ago, on this shorter short list that seems to include Tim Scott, Marco Rubio and J.D. Vance. 

But I can’t see that changing the race’s trajectory. What’s striking is that the anchors are now handling these as "vetting" interviews about each candidate’s record, because they believe one of them may well be moving into the vice president’s mansion.

Trump’s GOP unity day on the Hill got muddied when he criticized Milwaukee, the host city for next month’s convention. Even though Trump said he was talking mainly about crime in the city – which is actually down substantially this year – I’m not sure why he needed to go there.

The 78-year-old Trump is so anxious to depict the 81-year-old Biden as mentally unfit for the job that minor incidents are being exaggerated and distorted. There’s no question, as I said on the air, that Biden often comes across as frail and confused. 

But after a $30-million L.A. fundraiser over the weekend, Obama grabbed his arm and then kept touching his back as they exited the stage. This went viral as the former president was depicted as "leading" his onetime VP away.

Earlier, the New York Post, taking its lead from the RNC, misleadingly cropped a photo as if Biden was talking to no one at the G-7 in Italy. A wider angle showed Biden was saying a few words and giving a thumbs up to a skydiver who had landed next to the world leaders before the Italian prime minister led him back to the group. 

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Despite a couple of flashy media headlines, I did not criticize Fox’s coverage, though sometimes that comes with the job. I made a point of saying that the coverage by "Fox & Friends" was perfectly straightforward. We played a clip of Sean Hannity criticizing Biden, but there was no suggestion that he didn’t show the proper footage; he was paired with Joe Scarborough hitting Biden’s critics, as we often do to convey the range of commentary.

In my view, there’s little doubt that most of the media believe Trump will win the election, and here’s the proof.

The New York Times just ran a deep dive on how the Trump resistance is already laying the groundwork to battle and stymie him in a second term.

These groups "are drafting potential lawsuits in case he is elected in November and carries out mass deportations, as he has vowed. One group has hired a new auditor to withstand any attempt by a second Trump administration to unleash the Internal Revenue Service against them. Democratic-run state governments are even stockpiling abortion medication.

"A sprawling network of Democratic officials, progressive activists, watchdog groups and ex-Republicans has been taking extraordinary steps to prepare for a potential second Trump presidency, drawn together by the fear that Mr. Trump’s return to power would pose a grave threat not just to their agenda but to American democracy itself." 

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A newspaper simply doesn’t devote the enormous resources the Times did to this investigative piece without believing a Trump victory is at the least very likely.

Some groups are described as "wary" of discussing their plans for fear of signaling a lack of confidence in the Biden campaign, which is exactly what it signals.

And that brings us back to the CNN debate.

Biden is really running out of time to change the narrative of the race. The debate will probably be a wash, but it’s his only shot. Otherwise, the frozen campaign will wind up freezing him out.

Long-shot GOP presidential candidate Perry Johnson considering Senate bid in battleground Michigan

Long-shot Republican presidential candidate Perry Johnson isn't ruling out a run for the open Senate seat in battleground Michigan.

"Obviously, it’s no secret that I’ve had a lot of calls to run for this seat because they do want to win this seat. But at this point in time, my focus is right on the presidential [race], and, believe me, that’s taking all my time and energy at this point," Johnson said Thursday in a Fox News Digital interview.

The Michigan businessman and quality control industry expert failed to qualify for the first two Republican presidential nomination debates, including Wednesday's second showdown, a FOX Business co-hosted event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.

Johnson now faces an even steeper climb to make the stage at the third showdown in early November in Miami, Florida, because the Republican National Committee continues to raise polling and donor thresholds the candidates need to reach to qualify for the upcoming debates.

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Pointing to the polling threshold for the third GOP debate, Johnson said "4% is a big bar."

"When you’re an outsider, it’s very hard to get on the debate stage because, not only do you have to hit the poll numbers, then you have to have them [the RNC] say these polls are OK." He criticized the national party committee for not recognizing certain polls that don't meet its standards.

Johnson emphasized that, when it comes to his White House campaign, "right now, I think the plan is to go all in, in an individual state. If you’re not on the debate stage, that has to be the approach you take. …. The issue is to get to 4% nationally. 

"You can really only focus on one thing at a time, and when you’re running for president, it’s a full time for job."

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Johnson ran last year for the 2022 GOP gubernatorial nomination in Michigan and was considered a top contender before he and four other Republican hopefuls were disqualified because of invalid signatures. He has poured millions of his own money into his 2024 presidential campaign.

As Republicans aim to win back the Senate majority in 2024, they're eyeing Michigan, where longtime Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow is retiring rather than seeking another term.

"As you can imagine, I get inundated with calls because of the fact that Michigan has an open seat," Johnson said. "It’s literally a seat that Republicans have not had in Michigan in a long time."

Former longtime Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, who served as House Intelligence Committee chair during his last four years in office, launched a GOP Senate campaign earlier this month. Former Rep. Peter Meijer, who backed the impeachment of President Donald Trump, has formed an exploratory committee.

And Michigan State Board of Education member Nikki Snyder, businessperson Michael Hoover and attorney Alexandria Taylor have filed to run for the GOP Senate nomination.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin is the front-runner for the Democratic Senate nomination in a field that also includes actor and businessman Hill Harper, state Board of Education President Pamela Pugh and former state Rep. Leslie Love. 

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.