President Joe Biden is sharpening his attacks against former President Donald Trump – in public and, even more so, in private – as recent polls show warning signs for the Democrat in their possible rematch next fall.
Biden personally wanted to speak out this week after Trump described his political opponents as “vermin,” a senior adviser said, landing on a private California fundraiser as the venue.
“There’s a lot of reasons to be against Donald Trump. But damn, he shouldn’t be president,” the president bluntly declared. Armed with a teleprompter, he said Trump’s words amounted to “a specific phrase because it’s just a specific meaning,” recalling for donors that it evoked “language you heard in Nazi Germany in the ‘30s.”
The president’s team has also launched a new messaging push to put the GOP frontrunner’s policies front and center as Trump’s plans for a second term are coming into sharper focus, they say. Biden has yet to embark on a full-out campaign schedule, with his trips now loaded with official White House events and private fundraisers. Advisers say that will shift as he turns to more active campaigning next year.
“We are turning up the heat and brightening the spotlight on exactly what it would look like if he’s allowed back in the White House,” one Biden campaign official said of Trump.
The push comes as some recent national polling, including a survey by CNN conducted by SSRS earlier this month, shows Trump narrowly beating the president in hypothetical head-to-head matchups. A new poll from CNN, released on Friday, showed residents’ views of Trump are generally worse than their views of Biden. But even in the Granite State, perceptions of the president’s performance remain broadly negative.
Biden’s advisers argue that polls conducted one year before an election aren’t predictive of the final results. They’ve pointed to Democrats’ success in last week’s elections as a positive indicator for the president’s prospects in 2024.
Republican strategist Doug Heye said he’s surprised the campaign hasn’t ramped up the contrasts sooner amid the president’s low poll numbers.
“He can do both but very clearly messaging on what the Biden administration has accomplished has not broken through with voters,” Heye said. “If the election’s about Joe Biden, he’s in bubbling hot water. He then has to try to make it a choice versus the person he’s already defeated.”
The polls have sparked anxiety among many Democrats and inspired the party’s political class to pepper the White House with advice and critique. As one Democratic bundler bluntly told CNN in recent weeks, “Joe’s gonna take the gloves off and start to engage with facts instead of bulls*** … They’ve got to be more forceful, a little bit more in the electorate’s face and take these guys on.”
Some progressive groups in particular have encouraged top White House officials to tee up battles with the GOP in their arguments. They point to internal polling that shows a pronounced shift in voter perceptions of Biden when messaging is framed to include context about the former president.
“The balance the campaign’s trying to strike is doing the affirmative positive communicating on Biden’s record vs solely tearing Trump down,” one Democratic strategist said, cautioning there’s still a chance Trump is not the GOP nominee.
Biden has steadily boosted the pace of his attacks on Trump in recent weeks. Some of his most forceful condemnations of Trump during this campaign came in September. He used a major speech in Arizona and a private fundraiser in New York to portray Trump as “determined to destroy democracy.”
In the private San Francisco event, Biden was even more pointed.
“Trump also recently talked about, quote, ‘the blood of America is being poisoned’…Again, echoes the same phrases used in Nazi Germany,” he continued. “Folks, we can’t fail. We can’t fail to treat the threat that he poses. I mean, we can’t.”
The Trump campaign has pushed back on Biden’s arguments.
A Biden adviser said Trump’s comments harkened back to one of the moments that drove Biden to run against Trump in the first place - to the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville when the former president declared there were very fine people on “both sides” of the ensuing clashes.
In the last week, the president also used official White House speeches to draw policy contrasts with Trump and the GOP on issues like climate - “Anyone who willfully denies the impact of climate change is condemning the American people to a very dangerous future” – and support for labor unions.
“When you were in the middle of the fight, I stood and others stood with you, shoulder to shoulder, on that picket line. My predecessor went to a non-union shop and attacked you,” Biden said as he spoke to members of the United Auto Workers in Illinois last week.
The Biden campaign also ramped up the contrast by launching a new messaging push with the headline, “Trump’s America in 2025.” It focuses on Trump’s plans for a second term, including an expansion of the hardline immigration policies of his first administration.
“He is the one who every single day on the campaign trail is making it abundantly clear how harmful his administration would be for the American people if he returns to power,” said Michael Tyler, communications director for the Biden-Harris campaign. “We’re going to take advantage of that and highlight these stakes for the American people so they understand how dangerous Donald Trump is.”
The Biden campaign has also been eager to put abortion rights front and center in their messaging against Trump and the GOP. Biden has declared, “The only reason there is an abortion ban in America is because of Donald Trump.” They hope the 2024 re-election effort can build on the momentum from the midterms and this month’s elections where Democrats saw electoral success around the issue.
To that end, the Democratic National Committee is launching a new billboard campaign in Iowa to highlight GOP efforts to curtail abortion rights. The billboards, which will run around a conservative confab in the state this weekend, read: “Trump’s America 2025: Impose a National Abortion Ban” and “MAGA’s America 2025: Extreme Abortion Bans,” alongside pictures of Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Vivek Ramaswamy.
While most of the campaign’s television advertisements have focused on promoting the president’s record, Biden’s team has started rolling out some TV spots zeroing in on Trump.
“He says he stands with autoworkers but as president, Donald Trump passed tax breaks for his rich friends, while automakers shuttered their plants and the U.S. lost manufacturing jobs,” one recent television ad said.
Meanwhile, some progressive strategists also have briefed top White House officials on internal polling conducted by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Data for Progress that reflects the need for Biden to step up his distinctions with Trump to help move public opinion.
The data, a progressive pollster involved in the meetings, said, “presents more of an existential question – how do you capture attention and draw contrasts when Trump is Trump?”
“We’ve done this before,” the pollster said. “Let’s not forget what we did to be successful the last time around.”
CNN’s Camila DeChalus and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.
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