Biden’s team is considering how to talk to key voters about Trump

By | December 21, 2023

WASHINGTON – While he was president Joe Biden is increasingly rallying his base with fiery rhetoric Donald Trump Because it is the most serious threat American democracy has ever faced, his top aides say privately they are still struggling with the right tone for other key voters about Trump, his likely opponent in 2024.

It’s a delicate balance, Biden aides say: Warning voters about what the president thinks a Trump return to the Oval Office would be like, but not so much that they turn away or remain aloof. To strike the right tone, aides say, they are relying on years of data that Biden’s team has collected to track voter sentiment.

A senior Biden adviser said the question they are wrestling with is: “How do we think about Trump’s calibration?”

“Because that’s very complicated to understand,” the advisor said. “People generally have their opinions about him. But what will make people more likely to take action, rather than being left out because they don’t want to deal with him?”

NBC News spoke with a dozen White House, campaign and Democratic officials to get a sense of the Biden campaign’s emerging strategy.

In interviews, Biden’s top advisers present a dynamic that they acknowledge may sound unlikely to allies and activists concerned about what they see as a lack of urgency from the Biden campaign amid polls showing Trump right or leading in a general election contest. But, Biden advisers say, many of the voters they are currently most focused on — out-of-politics Democrats, independents and some Republicans — are not yet ready, or perhaps even unwilling, to consider that Trump will be on the ballot. for the third election in a row.

The dilemma is evident in the way the current phase of Biden’s re-election campaign is unfolding. In most of his public events and paid advertisements, Trump is barely mentioned. But when the cameras aren’t rolling and he’s speaking to loyal Democrats and donors, Biden withers his criticism of the former president.

“Let me be clear: Donald Trump poses many threats to the country, from the right to choose, to civil rights, to voting rights and America’s standing in the world,” he said Tuesday during a closed-door fundraiser. “The greatest threat Trump poses is to our democracy. Because if we lose, we lose everything.”

Biden’s campaign and at times even his White House also responded quickly to some of Trump’s most controversial rhetoric on the campaign trail. Over the weekend, the campaign released a statement saying Trump had “emulated Adolf Hitler” when he accused immigrants of “poisoning the blood of our country.”

In contrast, Biden’s public events around the country and his campaign message on air focus mainly on what he sees as his economic performance. The campaign’s $25 million spend this fall continues to focus on issues such as Biden’s middle-class education, his plan to lower prescription drug prices and his support for Black-owned small businesses. On Wednesday in Milwaukee, Biden targeted Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson instead of Trump, criticizing his legislative record.

While some Democrats would prefer the Biden campaign take a much more aggressive approach to Trump at this point and have urged the president and his aides to do so, Biden advisers argue there is still an upside in holding back during the Republican primaries. The Republican debates have not featured Trump, but they have provided opportunities for the Biden campaign to build a trove of video clips of the other Republican candidates criticizing Trump on issues like the growth of the national debt, Biden said— assistants. The Biden campaign plans to highlight those moments in coming months in messages aimed at Republican independents, the aides said.

A senior campaign official said two groups of voters are of particular interest based on internal research. The first falls into a group that Biden aides have labeled “convincing to participate.” They were part of what aides call the Biden coalition — African Americans, young voters and suburban women — who tune into the news and are averse to political discussion during a tumultuous time for the country.

Biden aides don’t expect those voters to vote for Trump but worry they won’t vote at all, the senior campaign official said.

The second group of voters is more independent, the official said, because they supported Trump in 2020 but voted for Democratic candidates in the 2022 midterm elections and in other off-year elections and special elections. Those voters, unlike the first group, are much more involved in the political process and more open to Biden on the issues — but not yet to Biden himself, the official said.

Biden’s team is counting on both groups to win over – especially if they are given the choice between Biden and Trump. The challenge for the Biden campaign right now, though, is that none of those voters want to face that choice right now, aides say. They point to public opinion polls showing that a substantial percentage of voters, even Republicans, think someone other than Trump will be the Republican Party’s nominee — a view they themselves do not yet share.

It’s a calculated gamble by the campaign. Typically, established parties work quickly to define opponents with a barrage of attacks just as they emerge from their own painful primaries, often with no means to defend themselves. But Trump is the one organizing campaign events aimed as much at attacking Biden — and his family — as at attacking his Republican enemies.

“We have a really unique situation here in that we have a current president and a former president against each other,” a second senior Biden campaign official said. “It’s hard to make comparisons to what we’ve done in the past when you’re in a situation like that.”

“In 2020, people really had a clear vision of who Trump was, and so we had to show them who Biden was,” the official added. “Now Biden has been in the news much more than Trump. So [our goal is] returning our focus to reminding people who Trump is and what Trump would represent in the future.”

Biden campaign officials said that through their research into voter sentiment, they have also discovered that at a time of increased political polarization and cynicism, the best way to influence certain voters is to “communicate about the issue first and then about the election,” the senior said Biden advisor.

The consultant said that in outreach to young voters on college campuses, for example, data shows that talking about issues like climate change is more likely to break through than outreach focused on the presidential election.

Campaign officials say this is especially true for perhaps the most important voting group in 2024: women.

The Biden adviser described female voters as typically “the non-conflict glue of their families and their communities.”

“They need to be friends with the random mom and dad their kid plays with,” the counselor said. “So in that context they don’t want to get involved in politics because that is conflict.”

Based on work on abortion during the midterm elections and other local races, Biden campaign officials say Democrats have been successful not by framing elections primarily as a choice between candidates, but by communicating what types of issues are at stake ​​– “in ways that make it much more about rights and about ownership, standing up for yourself and empowering your daughters and wanting your grandchildren to have the freedoms that you had,” the Biden adviser said.

“That’s a different way to communicate than saying Joe Biden supports your reproductive freedom and Donald Trump doesn’t.”

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