Veteran White House correspondent and analyst.
Veteran White House correspondent and analyst.
US President Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at Bemidji Regional Airport in Minnesota on Friday. Reuters
One presidential candidate is jetting across the country, hitting as many swing and in-play states as possible in this pandemic-shortened campaign season. The other is staying close to his home, which doubles as a sort of campaign headquarters.
One candidate is doing just about anything possible to generate media attention and a national buzz. The other prefers to play the role of dignified statesman, giving traditional yet bland policy speeches from behind a lectern while reading from a teleprompter.
One candidate has an unlikely secret weapon. The other has facts and a black Covid-blocking face mask.
In any other election cycle, it would be the challenger and underdog who was the bigger jet-setter. In any other year, it would be a sitting president who was holed up in his residence, relying largely on the powers of incumbency to power his re-election bid while relenting to the constraints – security reasons, mostly – of a presidential visit just about anywhere.
This is not any other presidential campaign, just in case you have been living under a large rock since March.
Former Vice President Joe Biden locked up the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this year and immediately parachuted into the general election as the favourite. From Super Tuesday forward, Biden has run his third – and deepest – White House bid from ahead.
Sports fans know the danger of possessing a big lead then doing everything possible to not squander it. Decisions are made differently. Gambles and risks are identified, but rarely taken, no matter the possible benefits or rewards. Those of us who thought this race would be about “Scranton Joe” fighting and clawing to wrestle the keys to the White House from Donald Trump were mistaken. What we have witnessed instead is Gentleman Joe pleading to the better angels of a tribal country mostly interested in clipping the wings of any heavenly spirit wearing a robe in the colour now associated with the other political party.
Just do the right thing, begs Frontrunner Joe, doing all he can to avoid gaffes while seemingly trying to lose what he has called the country’s most important election in its 244 years with the most ho-hum campaign in those two-and-a-half centuries.
He has allowed the ultimate underdog to run as the underdog. Because yes, Donald Trump, with a sense of rejection and grievance that dates back to his time as a B-list New York celebrity shunned by the A-listers, is the ultimate underdog, able in his best moments to weaponise his insecurities and use them to fire up his tens of millions of core supporters.
The longer Biden plays it safe, the more Trump will cut into his lead. And chipping away is an embattled president who has, yet again, weathered all the storms and come out dry as a bone with nary a hair out of place. He has sliced the former VP’s leads, which hovered around 9 percentage points earlier this summer, in key swing states down to within or just outside the margins of error of most polls.
A Washington Post-ABC News survey out Wednesday showed he has cut Biden’s Wisconsin lead in half. It’s a similar story across the Rust Belt – and beyond. The widely respected Cook Political Report this week substantially changed its Electoral College models – in favour of the president.
Did Biden pounce on Trump’s recently self-inflicted wounds with a push through suburbia in North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – maybe followed by a swing out west to talk to the suburban white women and black voters who could seal this thing? In other words, did the former vice president emerge from his “basement” — as the president calls his entire Wilmington, Delaware, home — to try delivering a mid-September knockout punch on a reeling president who was in self-imposed free fall with no message and even less discipline?
No. If Joe Biden has a taste for the political jugular, we have never seen it. It is doubtful we ever will.
Weathering the storm and emerging stronger is Donald Trump’s superpower. Empathy is Biden’s, we’re told. Trump has used his special power in recent weeks to get back on the campaign trail and paint Biden as a liberal boogeyman who will wreck the economy. The president even turned to warnings about interest rates this week – yes, interest rates – warning that his opponent would push the Federal Reserve to raise them so high people would be kicked out of their homes and lose their businesses. Trump also warned that a Biden administration – actually run by unnamed but shadowy socialists – would shrink every American’s 401(K) accounts by an order of some magnitude.
Those are pocketbook and wallet issues that matter most where? That’s right, in the very suburbs Biden could have visited with the president on the ropes and wounded.
Put another way, Biden’s superpower might make voters feel good, but Trump is using his to make promises – and even if they are empty and desperate, so what? – about putting money in voters’ pockets amid ongoing warnings about a deep recession or worse next year.
As Trump makes campaign stops Thursday night in Wisconsin, Friday night in Minnesota, Saturday in North Carolina and Monday in Ohio, he will try to scare suburban voters into voting for him and black voters into staying home. He will do both by describing a rather bleak existence for both groups in a “Biden economy.”
After all, the president’s secret weapon is more and more often helping him keep that conservative base revved up.
“They’re not interested in black lives. They’re interested in props, a small number of blacks who are killed by police during conflicts with police — usually less than a dozen a year — who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda,” Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday evening during remarks at Hillsdale College, known for its ties to conservative politics.
Attorney generals typically go out of their way to avoid politics. But not Barr, who seems more than willing to do Trump’s dirtiest work and say things that amplify and give the president’s most bombastic and legally questionable claims and falsehoods a veneer of Justice Department-approved legitimacy.
Biden, congressional Democrats and other Trump critics have worried since Barr became AG for the second time that he would do the president’s bidding by prosecuting his political opponents. Once again, they miscalculated and handed The Donald a trump card.
Barr instead has turned the Justice Department into a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trump-Pence campaign machine. To help fire up the young conservative minds there, Trump’s new campaign general warned that if they don’t help secure the president four more years, the United States will become a corrupt country like those evil socialist ones in eastern Europe. “Now you have to call your adversary a criminal, and instead of beating them politically, you try to put them in jail,” he said. “If you’re not in power, you’re in jail.”
Power is something Barr and Trump have in common. They crave it. And they are united in doing anything it takes to keep it.
Since Representative Justin Amash announced he was forming an exploratory committee to pursue the Libertarian nomination for president, there has been plenty of chatter about such a move harming Joe Biden’s chances of defeating President Trump in November. If Amash indeed gets on the ballot in a handful of swing states, he very well could siphon off some voters who otherwise would have opted for Biden. But what’s more certain at this point is that Amash’s decision hurts the former vice president in a different way.
Biden opened the event saying that as long as Donald Trump is president, the security and future of the United States is at risk. With fewer than 100 days before Nevada Democratic party caucuses, Biden is among the front-runners in crowded field of Democratic candidates for president.
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