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Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

Opinion | Biden campaign tries to put president’s debate nightmare in the past

By meerna Jul11,2024
Opinion | Biden campaign tries to put president’s debate nightmare in the past

WILMINGTON, Delaware — Top strategists at President Biden’s re-election headquarters believe there is only one way to put the nightmare of his debate performance behind him.

Looking ahead, “it has to be about Trump,” deputy campaign manager Rob Flaherty told me when I visited the operation, which is housed in a modern, high-rise downtown office building whose walls are decorated with “Dark Brandon” paintings.

It must be acknowledged that at this point, any theory about how the 81-year-old president will triumph over his predecessor, Donald Trump, in the fall has some questionable assumptions behind it.

Chief among them is whether Biden can demonstrate that he is smart and energetic enough to dispel doubts about whether he can handle another four years in the job. The test will come Thursday night, when the president holds a rare solo news conference. He cannot afford to be shaky.

Although Biden has remained steadfast in his refusal to concede, elected officials, major donors and other influential figures in his embattled party are deeply divided over whether their chances would be better if they took a chance on a new standard-bearer at the top of their list. The palpable fear is that Biden will not only fail to return Trump to the Oval Office, but will also take with him Democrats’ Senate majority and their hopes of retaking the House.

Opinion polls conducted since the June 27 debate have shown little change in the race, which may indicate how deeply entrenched and unshakable Democrats and Republicans are.

Biden’s internal campaign numbers show there has been some decline since the debate, I’m told. Much of that has been among what Biden strategists call “engagement targets.” They include younger voters, people of color, and women who supported Biden in 2020 but were less enthusiastic this time around. The decline in their support since the debate is within the margin of error, officials say, and there’s no sign yet that they’re trending toward Trump.

Additionally, these voters were less likely to watch the entire debate than ardent and attentive supporters of one side, meaning most of their opinions about what happened there came from news reports and social media clips.

But there is a silver lining for Biden—or perhaps, given the fragility of the moment, a silver lining. The debate has put many of the president’s grassroots supporters on high alert. The campaign says it has raised $38 million between Thursday night and next Sunday, and is seeing a surge in volunteers signing up.

This shows that his most ardent supporters believe Biden deserves opportunity to prove that what Americans saw on the debate stage in Atlanta was an aberration.

Now the campaign must redirect attention that has since been almost entirely focused on the candidate. “This election is about Trump. Our job is to make that case,” a senior adviser said.

That’s why we’ve been hearing a lot about Project 2025 lately, an initiative overseen by Trump’s right-wing allies and the conservative Heritage Foundation that lays out a detailed policy plan for the next Republican president.

Major media organizations, including The Post, have reported on radical proposals like militarized mass deportations, severe abortion restrictions and giving the White House more influence over the Justice Department since last year. But the political resonance of Project 2025, which gives substance to Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric, didn’t really become apparent to the Biden campaign until a few months ago, when it noticed a spike in rumors about Project 2025 among liberal political influencers on TikTok.

It doesn’t hurt that even the name Project 2025 carries a whiff of dark, conspiratorial sentiment. The Democratic National Committee has begun putting up billboards about the project. And Biden campaign officials plan to focus on it in an ad they expect to run during the Republican National Convention next week.

That the attacks are having an impact is evidenced by the fact that Trump has distanced himself from his next-term proposals. On his Truth Social platform, he wrote that he “knows nothing about Project 2025” and “has no idea who is behind it.”

What hasn’t changed since the debate is that Biden campaign officials say this will be a close election. And they believe they’ve built an operation that’s better prepared for an outcome that could be decided by fewer than 100,000 voters in seven states. They have a much larger on-the-ground presence than Trump, with 1,200 workers in key battleground states, and they’re investing heavily in voter registration and making sure their supporters not only vote but have their votes counted.

In their meme-filled headquarters 100 miles from the riots unfolding in Washington, the Biden campaign is pouring its efforts into what it still has the power to control. What is out of their control is whether Americans can still trust their candidate.

By meerna

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