It's time for Joe Biden to take the fight to Trump

It's time for Joe Biden to take the fight to Trump
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Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSupport for impeachment inches up in poll Overnight Defense: Trump's Syria envoy wasn't consulted on withdrawal | McConnell offers resolution urging Trump to rethink Syria | Diplomat says Ukraine aid was tied to political investigations Democrats say they have game changer on impeachment MORE has been under attack by President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham to introduce resolution condemning House impeachment inquiry Support for impeachment inches up in poll Fox News's Bret Baier calls Trump's attacks on media 'a problem' MORE, who continues to spew unfounded, debunked conspiracy theories that Biden acted inappropriately when he led a coalition of world leaders to push Ukraine to fire a prosecutor who was not rooting out corruption in that fledgling democracy. 

Trump raises the specter of corruption surrounding Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who took a high-paying position on the board of Burisma Holdings, an energy company in Ukraine. 

Trump’s attacks against Biden and his son will only get worse, more pointed and more personal, because this is Trump’s playbook at its worst. And the more closely that the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry focuses on Trump’s own corruption and abuses of presidential power – as seen in his July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president – the more Trump will concentrate his ire against Joe Biden, whom he seems to see as his most formidable rival in the 2020 presidential election.

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Trump is a predator in every sense of the word. When threatened, he will pounce on any perception of weakness. He will smell any ounce of anxiety or distress over how to respond to his lies, his attempts at character assassination, his dishonest attacks on Biden’s family, and he will go for the jugular.

In Hollywood terms, Trump is a political “Terminator,” and Biden and his team need to understand that the “terminator is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity. Or remorse. Or fear. And it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead.” (Politically speaking in this case.)

This will become even more stark as polls supporting impeachment become less favorable to Trump. The latest Washington Post poll has 58 percent of voters approving of an impeachment inquiry, with more Republicans than ever in favor. As such, the former vice president needs to respond more aggressively and decisively than perhaps he was prepared to do. He must take the fight to Trump without waffling, without hesitation, without fear.  

Biden needs to understand three things.

First, fairly or unfairly, he will be under scrutiny for allowing his son to serve on a high-paying foreign company’s corporate board while he served as vice president. He needs to address this head-on, without showing that he is aggravated that this is being asked of him. He should say that there was nothing untoward about his son’s business dealings in Ukraine – if that is the case, as I assume it is – but also acknowledge that, in retrospect, it could create the perception of a conflict of interest and that he will ensure it does not happen again in his administration. 

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Second, he needs to make a true contrast between himself and Donald Trump. He needs to think about the reason he got in this race in the first place, which was laid out in his announcement video. It is about getting things done for the American people but also about the character and the ability of a president to fight for what’s right. Biden needs to hammer home, again and again, that Trump is unfit, unqualified and unable to fight for anything moral, ethical or just.

Third, Biden needs to understand that he will get smacked with false equivalencies because of Hunter Biden’s directorship with Burisma Holdings. Biden needs to slap that down forcefully and unequivocally, without growing defensive. He needs to repeat that there are no facts showing that Hunter’s actions were anything but above board — and then do a hard pivot to Trump’s own corruption, nepotism, abuse of power and law-breaking actions based on his position as president of the United States.

Biden is getting there. His campaign released a 30-second ad in the early primary states that calls Trump “unhinged” and explains why Trump is obsessed with Biden; it allows Biden to underscore that he is the candidate Trump fears most, which shows that he is getting under Trump’s skin. The underlying message is that Biden is best positioned to beat Trump.  

The former vice president wrote a scathing op-ed in the Washington Post over the weekend that spoke out forcefully against Trump’s attacks on his family. Biden also gave a fiery speech in Reno last week, confronting Trump and telling the president that Biden was not “going anywhere.” It got minimal coverage because of all the impeachment news that rolled out the next day, but it was necessarily forceful.

These are all great starts. But many are concerned that the Biden campaign waffled a bit too long before it responded. That’s fine, but only if it indicates that they will continue to respond, counterattack, leave nothing unanswered and, when possible, do “pre-buttals” when they sense that a Trump attack is coming. 

Polls still show Biden with a comfortable lead in key states like Wisconsin and South Carolina. That doesn’t mean he will prevail; Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — ObamaCare premiums dropping for 2020 | Warren, Buttigieg shift stances on 'Medicare for All' | Drug companies spend big on lobbying Mellman: Trumping peace and prosperity On The Money: Waters clashes with Trump officials over 'disastrous' housing finance plan | Dems jump into Trump turf war over student loans | House passes bill targeting anonymous shell companies MORE (D-Mass.) is out-fundraising him and rising steadily in the polls, and she looks good in terms of competitiveness in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But if the Biden campaign plays it smart, the fight with Trump can work to its advantage, if it responds quickly and effectively to Trump’s attacks. It has to keep running the ads, keep putting out surrogates to bat down false conspiracy theories and confront Trump’s hypocrisy.

Unlike Hollywood’s “Terminator,” Trump does feel fear — that’s why he’s become so unhinged. But the rest of the movie’s line does apply: He will not stop. He will not let up. He will never give in, until he feels Biden is politically dead. 

Biden should do nothing less to Trump. 

Maria Cardona is a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a Democratic strategist and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.