The Memo: Biden team says campaign won’t be just ‘Stop Trump’

President Biden’s best chance of a second term may lie in presenting himself as the “Stop Trump” candidate — at least according to a new poll.

A CBS News/YouGov survey released Sunday found that, among likely Biden voters, twice as many were motivated by opposition to former President Trump as by support of the president, 54 percent to 27 percent.

An additional 19 percent of likely Biden voters said they were motivated to back the president simply because he is the Democratic nominee.

But the Biden team is adamant that the campaign won’t be solely about blasting Trump — even as it insists the 45th president poses a clear and present danger to American democracy.

The Biden argument is that the campaign need not be an “either/or” choice between hitting Trump and defending the president’s record. It will do both, aides say.

Many polls show American voters dissatisfied with the two major party nominees this year, but Biden could still succeed by turning the election into a referendum on Trump, at least in part.

The same CBS poll showed the election essentially tied. In it, Biden had a 1-point edge across the seven key battleground states, but Trump was up by 1 point nationwide.

Those results are a slight improvement from recent polling averages that had shown Trump with a small lead. The CBS poll also showed the number of Biden supporters likely to vote for him out of antipathy toward Trump had ticked up.

The share of Biden voters who said anti-Trump sentiment was their main motivation rose 7 points since March. The former president’s recent conviction on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records — and the ample publicity that his trial received — could have played a part in moving those numbers.

The Biden campaign is certainly putting plenty of effort into warning voters about the perceived threats Trump poses if he were to win a second term.

But advisers say the campaign is also putting particular emphasis on first-term accomplishments that have had a concrete effect on Americans’ daily lives, such as the $35 per month cap on the price of insulin for seniors and a broader limit on out-of-pocket prescription drug costs, also for seniors.

The Biden team is also emphasizing infrastructure investments, support for minority-owned businesses and other measures.

Simultaneously, Biden’s team has recently dinged Trump in ads for reported comments that were disrespectful to veterans — some of which Trump denies making — as well as for an odd aside during a Nevada rally on Sunday.

At one point in Las Vegas, Trump appeared to gesture toward someone in the crowd and said, “I don’t care about you. I just want your vote. I don’t care.” The clip was repurposed into an ad posted on Biden’s account on social platform X. It accrued around 2.1 million views in its first six hours online.

Biden has also repeatedly alleged that Trump and “extreme MAGA Republicans” pose a unique danger to the nation.

Some Democrats say there is no tension at all between the two approaches. Democratic strategist Mark Longabaugh noted that any electoral coalition is likely to be “motivationally broad” — that is, encompassing people who vote for a candidate for any number of reasons.

“People who want to vote for Biden because they can’t stand Trump are perfectly fine,” Longabaugh added.

But he also acknowledged that Biden faces a number of challenges that could dent enthusiasm at least among some voters, from the economy to the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine.

“There are a whole lot of issues for the Biden campaign that make this election difficult — prices, inflation, the economic piece, the housing piece and having two overseas conflicts that are very difficult to deal with. Those are much more important challenges.”

Other Democrats worry that the White House has not sold Biden’s record of domestic achievements during his years in office up to now — an error that, they suggest, now leaves his campaign playing catch-up.

“The problem that Biden has — and he’s had it for quite a while — is that they haven’t done a very good job of letting the American people know exactly what his record is,” said Jerry Austin, a Democratic strategist with experience in presidential politics going back to the 1980s.

“Now with six months to an election, they are trying to remind people of what he’s done and that is falling on deaf ears.”

But Austin acknowledged that Trump’s entire approach necessitates taking him on head-on.

“All they need to do is take Trump at his own word,” Austin said. “They don’t have to amp it up, they don’t have to edit it. He says things like, this is about revenge. I don’t remember anybody in my lifetime running for president for revenge.”

Trump’s calls for political vengeance worry Senate GOP

Republicans, meanwhile, contend that an anti-Trump campaign will not work the way it did in 2020 — for the basic reason that, after one term of Biden, there are plenty of voters with frustrations about the incumbent.

Memories of Trump furors while in office — notably, his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — are far less salient this time around.

GOP strategist Ron Bonjean, asked about a Biden campaign with Trump at its center, demurred, “It worked last time but it may not work this time because people aren’t happy with what they’ve seen from a Biden presidency.”

In the polling average maintained by The Hill and Decision Desk HQ, Biden’s job approval stood at 41.1 percent Monday evening, with 55.1 percent disapproval.

Those numbers have to be shifted, or Trump’s lowered, before Democrats feel more confident of victory come November.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

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