Biden pitches himself to top donors as Democrats’ best bet against Trump

President Joe Biden told top donors on a video call Monday that he is still the best candidate to defeat former President Donald Trump as the Biden campaign and the White House sought to move beyond a crisis threatening to consume the Democratic Party.

“I’m telling you, I’m not going anywhere, folks,” Biden said, according to a recording of the call obtained by CNN from a participant not authorized to release it. “I am in this to the end, and I’m going to beat Trump, I promise you.”

The president told participants that Democrats “can’t waste any more time being distracted” by the intraparty turmoil.

“We’re done talking about the debate. It’s time to put Trump in the bull’s-eye,” he said. “We can’t go another day, another day, without explaining what he’s doing, and we have to go after him.”

Biden’s message echoed a defiant Monday morning letter he addressed to House Democrats and an unscheduled appearance on MSNBC in which he discounted the conclusions of polls and pundits suggesting he could not deliver a victory in November.

It’s an open question whether the intense circling-of-the-wagons from the president and his campaign will ultimately ease the concerns of Democratic donors and other party elders, who fear Biden’s candidacy could inflict significant damage to the Democratic ticket in the fall.

The president said it was time for Democrats to stop being distracted by his debate performance and questions about his fitness for office. He urged them to turn the focus back to drawing a sharp contrast with Trump. He cited Project 2025, a policy playbook crafted by the conservative Heritage Foundation for a potential second Trump term.

Biden repeatedly portrayed Trump as a liar who has “no sense of anything, except himself.”

“We’re just going to keep using his language – what he said and how he said it and what he’s going to do – and let him deny it. And then maybe he’ll lose his own base,” Biden said on the video call.

Biden also made clear how damaging Trump’s agenda would be across the board, including for the economy, women and the LGBTQ community, one donor on the call said.

During the Q&A portion of the call, Biden fielded a question from a donor about what he needs to do in the second debate – currently scheduled for September 10 – to perform better than he did in the first debate, during which 51 million Americans watched his meandering and low-energy performance.

Biden, dressed in a suit and flanked by an American flag and family photographs, said he would prepare differently for that debate, and would “attack, attack, attack.”

It’s far from certain whether the ABC debate will happen.

Monday’s call began roughly 40 minutes after its scheduled start time as the campaign processed a last-minute rush of RSVPs due to the late announcement of Biden’s participation. A participant told CNN that more than 300 members of the campaign’s National Finance Committee dialed into the Zoom call, which opened with a fiery defense of the president from Maryland Gov. Wes Moore.

Another participant on the call, who has been critical of Biden and his campaign over the past week, praised the president’s words Monday and said the campaign seemed to “finally” grasp the seriousness of the moment.

The ultimate test, this donor said, would be whether the battleground map showed any signs of expanding or if the president’s support erodes in campaign polling expected later this week, following the long July 4 holiday weekend.

“It’s still a huge hole to climb out of,” the Democratic donor said, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid alienating the campaign. “It was already a steep hill to climb to victory.”

Concerns grow over Biden’s future

The Biden campaign has convened the National Finance Committee three times in the wake of the June 27 debate, which stirred acute concerns within the party about Biden’s viability and questions about the future of his campaign’s finances.

Democratic National Committee Finance Chair Chris Korge, who was among the final speakers on the call, was “begging us to stay in line,” one of the participants said.

One Wall Street donor said there continues to be “plenty of noise” agitating for an alternative among executives previously inclined to support Biden, but it remains “unclear whether it will penetrate to the bunker,” a reference to the insular group of longtime advisers who counsel the president most closely and have supported his decision to stay in the race.

Biden’s defiant pledge to stay in the race has infuriated many of the campaign’s biggest and most important contributors. The sense of alarm in the wake of his debate performance has turned into anger among some donors, particularly as the president has sought to tear into the “elites” of the party.

“I’m getting so frustrated by the elites,” Biden said Monday morning during an impromptu call into “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.

One Democratic fundraiser said the president’s tone was decidedly unhelpful and would only serve to drive donors away. The anger was one of the reasons campaign officials arranged the lunchtime call with top donors Monday.

While the Biden campaign has pointed to a rush of small-dollar donations over the past week, a senior adviser said the falloff among high-dollar contributors was highly troubling.

“We can’t do this without the money,” the senior adviser said, noting that the campaign’s budget of advertising, offices and staff was a multimillion-dollar proposition with little room for error.

Even before the debate late last month in Atlanta, Biden campaign officials were growing increasingly concerned at Trump’s sudden burst of fundraising, which threatened to erase one of the biggest advantages Biden’s campaign once held.

An adviser to Democratic political contributors who has been on multiple donor calls in recent days – as well on the phone and texting with many individual donors – said fundraising typically slows in the summer.

“But I certainly wouldn’t want to be hosting a Biden-Harris fundraiser this week, just with all the anxiety and uncertainty,” the adviser said.

The adviser said the donor class remains divided on the best path forward, although some increasingly are worried that the continued public handwringing by contributors over the future of the Democratic ticket is doing more harm than good.

On a call this week that this person joined, one member of Congress reminded donors that the decision about withdrawing from the race was Biden’s alone to make, the adviser recalled, with the lawmaker saying: “It’s really hard to change horses when you are galloping down a stream, and it’s really hard to change horses when you are galloping down a stream if the horse doesn’t want you to.”

“That’s sort of where we are at,” the adviser said. “The polls being relatively stable have calmed a lot of people down.”

No ‘cutting and running’

John Morgan, a Florida trial attorney and longtime Biden supporter, had been working with the campaign to host a fundraiser in the state likely in early September, but he said the event is “all up in the air” at this point.

“I don’t even bother them,” he said about reaching out to campaign officials on the status of the event. “I’m not going to call them because they have bigger fish to fry than an event in Florida in September. They’ve got to get past all the naysayers.”

For his part, Morgan said he remains committed to backing Biden and is willing to hold a fundraiser “only if he’s the candidate.”

“Some of the elite donor class is cutting and running. That’s a huge mistake,” Morgan said.

Morgan blamed Biden’s campaign team for his debate performance and argued that Vice President Kamala Harris is in place “if something happens” to Biden.

He also warned that those urging the president to quit the race are underestimating the confusion and chaos that would follow.

“The war that would ensue would be unbelievable,” he said. “All those politicians trying to get in line, all those political consultants, whose lifeblood and money comes from being tied to power.”

Moving forward, Morgan said, “what I want President Biden to do is what he did over the weekend, which is go out and meet with people and be unscripted.”

Steve Phillips, a Democratic donor and author from San Francisco, said contributors calling for a Biden replacement were displaying “a shocking amount of ignorance about electoral math and voter behavior.”

For starters, there’s no realistic alternative to Biden, Phillips said.

“There is just this widespread contagion of dissatisfaction and unrealistic pining for the perfect person. It’s just not going to happen, and most importantly, it doesn’t need to happen,” he said. “There is a larger voting bloc for the Democrats than for the Republicans. And that’s what people need to be focusing on.”

Phillips said anxious Democratic donors “need to get out of their feelings” and instead put their energy behind turning out those voters and selling them on the administration’s accomplishments.

He called it “disrespectful” to think that Democratic-leaning voters would “easily crumble, disappear and not show up” on Election Day.

CNN’s Donald Judd and MJ Lee contributed to this report.

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