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Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden

The Hill logo The Hill 5 days ago Jonathan Easley and Amie Parnes
Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden © Getty Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden

The Trump campaign is stepping up its attacks on Joe Biden, arguing the former vice president is past his prime and that Democrats would be unwise to nominate him for the presidency.

Trump campaign officials spent the weekend circulating Biden's latest campaign trail foibles, led by a goofy moment of the former vice president nipping at his wife's fingers on stage at a campaign rally.

A photo of Joe Biden with Jill Biden's finger in his mouth went viral on social media and was ferociously mocked on the right.

Separately, the Trump campaign attacked Biden for dubbing his latest Iowa swing the "No Malarkey" tour, describing the term as outdated and indicative of a campaign that has run out of ideas.

Trump officials also have been passing around old remarks of Biden telling a story about how children petted the hair on his legs when he was a lifeguard at a swimming pool one summer - another odd moment that Republicans are using to paint a negative picture of Biden.

While the attacks from Trump allies have sought to convince voters that Biden is a weak candidate in decline, the focus on the former vice president also appears to underscore views in some Trump circles that Biden could be a strong challenger - particularly in the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that were the keys to the president's 2016 victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump insiders told The Hill that they'd continue to focus their attacks on Biden for the time being, as most still view him as the likeliest Democrat to win the nomination and the most competitive in a one-on-one match-up against the president.

"He's still the front-runner and the likeliest to win the nomination," said one former Trump campaign official. "And I think of all the Democrats, he's still the most likely to have a competitive race against Trump. Of course, that comes with the massive asterisk that he could totally implode at any moment."

Trump seems likely to be impeached by the House before the end of the month, and the impeachment inquiry was sparked by the president's efforts to get Ukraine's government to investigate Biden - something the former vice president's campaign say points to Trump's fears of Biden.

Allies of Biden roll their eyes at the latest attacks from Team Trump, arguing that the right is giving outsized attention to harmless campaign trail moments.

They say voters know exactly who Biden is and that the former vice president has weathered intense scrutiny of his so-called gaffes - and even a couple of shaky debate performances - to remain atop the field of Democratic contenders.

Basil Smikle, who served as a former aide to Clinton and the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, said Trump's targeting of Biden shows he sees him as his biggest threat.

"While other candidates see-saw in the polls, Biden's durable support strengthens his electability argument and creates a focal point for Trump as the president's support among suburban women and working-class men softens," Smikle said.

Another Democratic strategist who remains neutral in the primary said every other candidate would love the attention they're paying to Biden.

"If he's most threatened by you, he's going after you. It's that simple," the strategist said.

The strategist said Biden needs to highlight Trump's attacks and set up the appearance of a one-on-one contest. Biden did just that on Monday, firing away at Trump ahead of this week's NATO summit.

"American leadership has served as the backbone of NATO since its founding - until President Trump," Biden said. "His abdication of America's traditional leadership role could not come at a more critical moment for the alliance."

Still, some Trump World operative are becoming increasingly confident about a potential showdown with Biden, believing he's just not the same candidate who battled then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on the vice presidential debate stage in 2012.

One GOP operative with close ties to the campaign said he views Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) as the strongest general election candidate against Trump and that the campaign is only continuing to attack Biden because he has made it so easy for them.

"I do still think Biden is the most likely to win, even if he wouldn't necessarily be the toughest test for us," the operative said. "But part of it is just that he's the easiest to attack. It's low hanging fruit. He makes it easy for us. He gives us something new every day."

Some Biden allies are resigned to the fact that the strange moments on the campaign trail will dog him for as long as he is in the race.

"If you don't want gaffes, then Biden isn't for you, but really nobody cares about these gaffes because it's not about who is the most polished," said Howard Gutman, a former ambassador who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Obama-Biden ticket and has endorsed Biden for president. "Voters know Joe, and they know Joe will beat Trump in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan and Wisconsin, and he could even win in Florida. Voters get that. They understand it, and that's why Joe will win."

Gutman said when the time comes, Biden will rise to the challenge of debating Trump - even if there are occasional stumbles that receive outsized media attention in Washington.

"It's possible on the debate stage that Joe will say Serbia instead of Slovakia or something like that," Gutman said. "The difference is, nobody cares and Joe actually knows the difference between the two and Trump doesn't. Maybe there will be gaffes, but voters know that he's good for America and knows the government leaders and has their respect."

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