Trump takes underdog role in campaign against Biden

President TrumpDonald John TrumpSessions accepts 'Fox News Sunday' invitation to debate, Tuberville declines Priest among those police cleared from St. John's Church patio for Trump visit Trump criticizes CNN on split-screen audio of Rose Garden address, protesters clashing with police MORE’s campaign is heading into the reelection battle against former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPresidents and 'presidents' Biden to blast Trump's church photo op in Philadelphia speech Rudy Giuliani calls on Cuomo to remove Bill de Blasio MORE as an underdog, a role the campaign embraced in 2016 and hopes to capitalize on once again in 2020.

The White House has retooled its media strategy, and the campaign is going up early with ads casting Trump as the “comeback” president who will lead the U.S. economy to new heights after the coronavirus-induced meltdown.

The Trump campaign will soon turn its attention to tearing down Biden, casting him as complicit in China’s rise as a global superpower and raising doubts about the former vice president’s fitness for office. A pro-Trump outside group is planning to take up the allegation of sexual assault made by a former Senate staffer against Biden, a charge the former Delaware senator has vehemently denied.

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The attacks are an effort to make the election a binary choice between Biden and Trump, rather than a referendum on Trump’s first term in office, GOP operatives say.

Trump’s allies acknowledge that they face an uphill climb, with polls showing Biden leading nationally and in key battleground states. If the economy does not prove to be as resilient as Trump claims, the election is all but lost, campaign insiders say.

But Republicans believe Trump may have bottomed out amid the pandemic and there will be opportunities to sell an economic recovery and to damage Biden, who has kept a low profile since the coronavirus outbreak first hit.

“The polling right now doesn’t look great, but we’re seeing a snapshot taken at the most stressful moment of COVID-19 plus economic shutdown,” said Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster and president of WPA Intelligence.

Wilson said the president’s team knows it needs to get the economy going but added that opening it up won’t guarantee activity. As for Biden, he said there are negatives there, but the twin economic and health crises create a difficult environment for the president.

“Joe Biden has enough negatives that the Trump team will have no problem finding one that works,” he said, “but the political environment needs to be there for Biden’s negatives to swing the race.”

The Biden campaign said it would turn Trump’s attacks on China and fitness for office against him.

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“It’s classic Trump to try to project all of his greatest weaknesses on others,” a Biden campaign aide said.

Trump aides and advisers say that while Biden’s favorability rating is higher than then-Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSessions accepts 'Fox News Sunday' invitation to debate, Tuberville declines The Memo: Trump lags in polls as crises press Biden savors Trump's latest attacks MORE’s was in 2016, they believe that Biden is totally undefined in the eyes of voters, while the GOP had “decades to define Hillary as Lucifer.”

“Biden’s basically viewed as a generic Democrat right now, but the more people see of him, the worse it is,” said one Republican close to the campaign. “It’s no coincidence that his polling numbers have gone up while he’s been out of public view.”

The campaign believes they can drive Biden’s negatives up by focusing on China, which Trump campaign internal polling shows is a top issue for voters, behind the pandemic and the economy.

The Trump campaign intends to highlight Biden’s “support for every globalist trade deal that hurt blue-collar Americans during his decades in the Senate.”

They believe new scrutiny on China, where the coronavirus originated, gives them an opportunity to make the case that previous administrations have given the country a free pass. The campaign believes that argument underscores how Biden has been a “career politician whose 45 years in Washington represents the prevailing view of the Beltway.”

Campaign insiders say they get the added benefit of tying Biden’s son Hunter Biden to the China attack line, pointing to a trip the younger Biden took to China with the then-vice president on Air Force Two while he was on the board of a private equity company with ties to the Chinese government.

The largest pro-Trump outside group, America First Action PAC, has already put $10 million behind a “Beijing Biden” ad in battleground states.

“The China attack says it all — it ties in trade, the coronavirus and corruption,” said one GOP operative close to the campaign.

Biden campaign spokesman Michael Gwin said they’re “happy to compare their records on China,” arguing that Trump had “wasted months downplaying the risk of the coronavirus and buying the Chinese Communist Party’s misleading spin instead of listening to the health experts and the intelligence community.”

“The U.S. is now paying the price of his historic negligence, with 70,000 Americans dead, another million infected, and 30 million newly jobless,” Gwin said. “While Vice President Biden was warning Donald Trump not to take the Chinese government at its word and urging him to get American experts on the ground in China, Trump was busy praising President Xi [Jinping] for his ‘transparency’ and blithely ignoring the biggest public health crisis in 100 years.”

The campaign will also lean heavily into the idea that Biden is showing signs of aging and is unfit to lead the country.

The campaign’s rapid response team has endlessly circulated clips of Biden appearing to lose his train of thought or looking down at notes to answer a question during interviews from the basement in his home.

Trump campaign manager Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE is eager to make this case, although there has been internal debate about how fiercely to attack on the issue.

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Some in Trump’s orbit are worried that malicious attacks on Biden’s mental well-being will backfire among seniors at a time when polls show Trump is struggling to appeal to the older voters that broke for him in key swing states in 2016.

But Trump campaign aides say they will make the case solemnly by highlighting Biden’s stumbles on breaking news events, believing this will allow voters to draw their own conclusions.

“We follow the president’s lead, so yes, we are making it an issue,” said one campaign aide.

A Biden ally fired back: “The idea that the ‘stable genius’ who told Americans to drink bleach to cure the coronavirus has any standing to talk about mental fitness is absolutely laughable.”

The Trump campaign does not have plans at the moment to highlight Tara Reade’s allegations, other than to rail against what they view as a double standard in the way Democrats and the news media have treated the allegations. Biden has denied the allegations and Democratic leaders say they believe him.

Trump faces allegations of sexual misconduct from many more women, and he declined to attack Biden on the issue at a recent White House briefing.

But the pro-Trump outside group Great America PAC, which has raised and spent tens of millions of dollars in support of Trump, says it will take up the charge.

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Last year, the group released an ad called “Creepy Joe” to highlight the women who said Biden made them uncomfortable with unwanted touching. The group has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Biden’s Senate records at the University of Delaware, where Reade says a complaint she filed might be kept.

“Certainly the ‘Creepy Joe’ angle we will push hard on, which Reade’s allegations and other past ones feed into, particularly because it appears the president’s campaign is not pushing that angle forcefully,” said Brent Lowder, the group’s executive director.

On the economy, multiple advisers said they will make the case that “Trump did in four years what the Obama-Biden administration could not do in eight years.”

The argument will be that Trump is fully responsible for building a juggernaut that was derailed due to no fault of his own, and that he’s the only who can do it again.

“He has to shift the debate to a choice between which incumbent is best suited to get the economy going again and stand up to China,” said one GOP campaign operative. “This will not be a race that is won in the manner he won 2016’s race — Biden’s just not as repulsive to swing voters as Hillary was. But Biden will be seen as weaker on the two issues voters care about, and that’s what they have to litigate.”