The president’s advisers have also gone over with him his third debate against Hillary Clinton in 2016, which they believe was his best of the three he had in that campaign, in part because he was relatively articulate while being specific in discussing policies, despite the moment when Mrs. Clinton called him a “puppet” of Russia and his response was: “No puppet, no puppet. You’re the puppet.”
“I would be coaching the president to separate the things that get applause at rallies of committed Trump supporters from the things undecided voters want to hear,” said Brad Todd, a Republican strategist. “He does need to communicate to swing voters that the real stakes in this election are not the past, not even the present, but they are the future, of rebuilding the economy.”
Mr. Biden and his allies are skeptical that Mr. Trump will confine his remarks to such subjects.
“I wish I had a dollar for every time we’ve heard Donald Trump’s advisers are signaling some calming behavioral change,” said Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist close to the Biden team.
Mr. Biden, a fan of briefing books and of intense preparation even for lower-key appearances, has largely stayed off the campaign trail this week, getting ready for Thursday’s matchup.
His preparation is guided by a group of close allies including Ron Klain, a former Biden chief of staff and veteran of presidential debate prep; Steve Ricchetti, a longtime adviser; Mike Donilon, the candidate’s chief strategist; Anita Dunn, a senior adviser who was spotted with Mr. Biden in his hometown, Wilmington, Del., this week; and Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel. Valerie Biden Owens, Mr. Biden’s sister and a trusted adviser throughout his decades in politics, has also been in the room with him for debate prep in recent days.
Other senior officials involved include Stef Feldman, Mr. Biden’s policy director; Kate Bedingfield, his communications director and a deputy campaign manager; Symone Sanders, a senior adviser; and two top policy advisers, Jake Sullivan and Antony J. Blinken.
Mr. Biden’s advisers see the race as a referendum on Mr. Trump’s leadership during the pandemic, and they view the debate as another chance to highlight differences with the president as coronavirus cases rise across the country — indeed, Mr. Trump and many of his advisers said after the first debate that they had tested positive, and the president was hospitalized for several days.