CPAC attendees say Biden poses greatest threat to Trump

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — They’re confident Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE will win a second term, but many attendees of the nation’s largest gathering of conservative activists agreed that Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden jokes he's ready for a push-up competition with Trump Biden says his presidency is not 'a third term of Obama' Biden knocks Trump on tweets about 'smart as hell' Ocasio-Cortez MORE poses the greatest threat to the president in 2020.

Grass-roots activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) repeatedly invoked the former Democratic vice president when asked who would be the most formidable challenger to Trump ahead of his reelection campaign.

Trump’s approval rating is in the 40s, he’s losing favor with independent voters, and newly empowered House Democrats are turning up the heat with a myriad of investigations into his policies, business dealings and personal scandals.   

Trump is slated to address CPAC, at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, on Saturday.

“I think it would be Joe Biden. I just think a bunch of Democrats would rally around him. I just think he would be the most most formidable candidate,” said Joseph Lewis of Emmett, Idaho, who was attending his first CPAC gathering with his friend, Barbara Hawkins. “He’s experienced, everybody knows him, but he’s well known for his gaffes.”

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An attendee from Virginia, who would only give his first name as Greg, said Biden could “come across as a mature leader” in a race against Trump, who’s been admonished by some fellow Republicans for his often-personal Twitter attacks.

And a former Trump administration official attending CPAC said Democrats could combine experience and blue-collar appeal with diversity and energy on the left if Biden and Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris slams DOJ decision not to charge police in Eric Garner's death Harris vows to 'put people over profit' in prescription drug plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet MORE (D-Calif.) ran as a ticket, which could be dangerous for Republicans.

“A Biden-Kamala ticket would be formidable,” said the former Trump official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Biden, a son of Scranton, Pa., who served as former President Obama’s vice president for two terms, said this week that he is being encouraged by his family members to jump in the crowded primary race after passing on a 2016 bid following the death of his son, Beau Biden. But Biden has yet to make a decision.

Friends and allies who speak to Biden regularly say they believe he is almost certain to announce a run in the coming months. Former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondHarris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support The Hill's Morning Report - Warren cements front-runner status in first Dem debate Democrats crush GOP to win annual baseball game MORE (D-La.) said he believes Biden is “90 percent” leaning toward running for president.

“I’ve been talking to him about running since election night two years ago. I think he was the first person I reached out to and said, ‘You have to do this for the country,’ ” Richmond recounted in an interview in the Capitol this week. “Every time you see the calamity of foolishness coming out of the White House, I’d always pick up the phone and call and encourage him.”

But Biden’s decades-long career in politics means he’d enter the 2020 Democratic primary with a lot of baggage. CPAC activists called the 76-year-old former vice president too gaffe-prone, too liberal, and a creature of the Washington swamp.   

 “He’s the wrong color and he’s the wrong gender” to win the Democratic nomination, said Jeff Johnson, who traveled to CPAC from DeKalb, Ill. “That’s identity politics — that’s all they’re fighting on. It’s not about the best qualified person. Biden’s a bozo; he’s a career politician, he’s an idiot.”

Teresa Mendoza, sporting a red “Latinas for Trump” T-shirt, also said she wasn’t too concerned about Biden, whom she dismissed as a “creeper” with “too much baggage.” Instead, Mendoza said she’s closely monitoring another potential Trump challenger: former Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz.   

“I’m a lifelong Democrat who can’t recognize her party,” Mendoza said. “So when there is a moderate Democrat who comes along, he’s somebody who could draw people to him because he’s a business owner and he’s moderate, and he’s calling out the party for how unhinged they are."

“They are literally batshit crazy,” she said.

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Republican Lawrence Zupan, a Trump supporter who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' Sanders slams decision not to charge officer who killed Eric Garner Cardi B says voters let Bernie Sanders down MORE (I-Vt.) last fall, also called the current crop of Democratic 2020 hopefuls — including Sens. Harris, Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerHarris slams DOJ decision not to charge police in Eric Garner's death The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Fundraising numbers highlight growing divide in 2020 race MORE (N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' Trump says administration will 'take a look' after Thiel raises concerns about Google, China Thiel calls Warren the most 'dangerous' Democratic candidate MORE (Mass.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Fundraising numbers highlight growing divide in 2020 race Five things to watch for at Defense nominee's confirmation hearing MORE (N.Y.), as well as Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state — “fourth-tier candidates” and “lightweights who will be blown away in the wind by Donald Trump.”

But when asked if Biden was one of those lightweights, Zupan suddenly got serious.

“Joe Biden politically is not a lightweight,” Zupan told The Hill. “If Joe Biden comes in, despite the fact that he somehow looks moderate compared to the crazies running for the office, he might pose a threat to the president. He might be somebody who would be a force to be reckoned with, only because [he represents that] Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJesse Jackson calls on Trump to pardon Rod Blagojevich #ObamaWasBetterAt trends after Trump attacks on minority congresswomen Biden says his presidency is not 'a third term of Obama' MORE-era nostalgia."

“He’s got the blue-collar appeal, but if anyone wearing a blue collar understood his destructive ideas, they would change collars,” Zupan continued. “It’s his faux, everyman ethos that he tries to portray while he rides around and gets treated like a monarch for his $200,000 speeches.”

Earlier this year, Tim Chapman, an executive with the outside conservative group Heritage Action, said during a C-SPAN interview that “Biden keeps me up at night” because he is “perceived as a moderate” but has “credibility with working-class voters.”

“I think the entire game in 2020 is whether Republicans can recreate that coalition of 2016,” Chapman said. “Losing working-class voters would make it very hard for a Republican to win.” 

Yet there were a number of Trump surrogates at CPAC who argued that the president has nothing to worry about in 2020, especially given the pack of liberals vying for the nomination who are pushing for “socialist” ideas like the "Green New Deal" and "Medicare for all."

“Socialism is not going to cut it. They are so far left,” Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsThe 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today CPAC attendees say Biden poses greatest threat to Trump MORE (R-Texas), who is backing Trump’s reelection, said as he left the main stage at CPAC. “I see it as a great benefit to us if we don't mess it up because America is not going to go left; America is not going to go the fantastic green program or Medicare for nobody. I’m not worried about any of them.”

Maj Toure, another Trump backer and the founder of gun-rights group Black Guns Matter, said he, too, didn’t see anyone in the Democratic field who would stand a chance against Trump, though he did single Harris out for praise.

“They would have to come in strong on the economy. They would have to come in strong on national security. And they would have to come in way better than the current administration is on the Second Amendment. I don’t see anyone on the left doing that,” Toure told The Hill.

“Joe Biden has been horrible because of his gun-free zones. Since 1991, over 90 percent of massacres have been in gun-free zones. So he clearly won’t work,” he added. “Maybe a Kamala. Lots of energy, a woman, African-American. On those checklists, it would make sense, but other than that I just don’t see anybody.”