President Joe Biden and his campaign team continue to believe they will face Donald Trump in a general election rematch four years prior.
But after the Republican presidential primary field grew dramatically last week, with a high-profile governor and senator joining the race and other GOP heavyweights considering taking the plunge, they’re not leaving anything to chance either.
Biden’s fledgling campaign and the Democratic National Committee are gearing up to launch campaigns against a slew of current and potential GOP candidates, driven by fears their jobs will be harder if Trump’s name isn’t at the top of the ticket. republican.
Their efforts kicked into high gear this week with the entry of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis into the race. Its glitch-filled launch on Twitter Spaces drew much mockery from Trump and other Republicans. The Biden campaign also moved quickly, trolling DeSantis with a tweet on its own fundraising page (noting that “this link works”) and buying Google ads for searches like “DeSantis flop” and “DeSantis disaster.”
But the campaign and, in particular, the DNC also welcomed DeSantis into the fray with more substantial broadsides. They have unleashed a series of attacks and research dumps on the opposition, pointing to a number of its positions which they say could be vulnerabilities in the general election, including its endorsement of a restrictive ban on abortion. , his support for book bans, and his fight with Disney over LGTBQ legislation.
Democrats believe this allows them to continue the strategy that worked midterm last year — portraying nearly all GOP candidates as out of step with most Americans.
“They are all extreme. I grew up under the Ronald Reagan Republican Party that wrapped itself in the American flag,” DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison said. “Well, part of America is freedom: freedom to speak, freedom to choose. And these guys are all against freedom.
This account of the emerging dynamics of the race was based on interviews with more than a dozen people working with or alongside the campaign, many of whom agreed to speak freely if granted anonymity.
The DNC has done the lion’s share of sweeps on DeSantis, as Team Biden remains a skeleton staff launched a month ago. But the DNC, its officials said, has already beefed up its campaign apparatus. He began fundraising in all 50 states and deployed surrogates and staffers to follow DeSantis and other Republicans to events.
They also began hammering the other Republicans in the race, including Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who jumped days before DeSantis, and former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, while preparing for entry. likely from former Vice President Mike Pence. .
While not all Republicans can be directly tied to some of Trump’s records, or his role in inspiring the Jan. 6 riot, Biden aides still believe they can be tied to the former president. DNC staffers began branding all Republican hopefuls as catalysts for MAGA policies, making their support for Trump a guideline.
“It’s no stretch to paint with a broad brush and make other Republicans look like ‘Trump Lite,'” said Basil Smikle, a veteran Democratic strategist and former leader of the New York State Democratic Party. “Almost all have the White House can also argue that the GOP is a threat to democracy itself and the protection of individual liberties.
DNC aides are also casting a wide net, researching the backgrounds of other GOP candidates who might not even jump in the race, including Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a potentially formidable foe. Democrats believe that while a moderate Republican could prove a more serious challenger in the general election, others who could enter the race — like New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sunnunu and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — are unlikely to survive a primary GOP electorate that has shifted decisively to the right.
And Biden aides believe, no matter who the Republicans appoint, that the GOP’s playbook against the president – with attacks on his age, his son Hunter Biden and socialism – will be the same one that failed. in 2020.
Those close to Biden are concerned that Republicans are appointing a new face, someone who, during a time of inflation and divisiveness, could tap into pervasive anti-incumbent sentiment in America and democracies around the world. .
“Republicans should pay attention to his weak approval. This is not a president who the American people believe is doing a good job on their behalf,” said Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee. “The vast majority of Americans feel like we’re not going in the right direction.”
Most presidential re-election campaigns can be framed as “change versus more of the same,” though a Biden versus Trump retread would be “more of *this* even versus more of *that* same.”
But if Biden faces anyone other than Trump, the dynamics of the race would immediately change, becoming a referendum on the president’s record. It would also draw attention to the president’s age. Trump is only three years younger than Biden, but some of the other Republicans are decades younger and would present a stark contrast in a debate next fall alongside an 81-year-old president.
“The framing becomes, ‘Do you want four more years of Biden or something different? “,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who was a senior adviser on Marco Rubio’s 2016 White House bid. a decision on Donald Trump, very few have made a decision on Ron DeSantis. And all of Biden’s vulnerabilities — including his age — are exaggerated if he runs against a new face.
Agents from both parties point out that it is still very early in the race. But as Biden’s world investigates GOP terrain, they see little to shake their belief that anyone other than Trump will stand at the end of the main battle — even if it’s two or more. three more indictments from now.
Biden himself told those close to him that the Republican Party’s best time to turn the page on Trump was in the weeks following the Jan. 6 uprising, according to three people close to him. And while Biden yearns for a return to the pre-GOP days of his Senate days, he now thinks his predecessor’s grip on the Republican base will likely hold until next November.
The White House likes its chances in a rematch. Aides believe Trump’s behavior is disqualifying to voters and that many Americans would not like a return to the chaos that dominated his administration. Additionally, Biden’s political brain trust is obsessed with independent and swing voters — in many cases, suburban women — who opted for Trump in 2016 but walked away from him four years later.
What has Trump done since leaving office, Biden advisers ask, to win back those voters? The answer, they argue, is nothing, as they point to the Capitol insurrection, its dinner with a white supremacist, and its mounting legal peril. He may be tied, his aides say, to the same extreme positions on abortion and guns as other Republicans. And while a criminal indictment or two might even help Trump rally GOP support in the primaries, they would likely repel swing voters in a general election.
But the electorate remains deeply divided, and the 2016 and 2020 elections were decided by relatively low numbers of votes in a handful of battleground states. Trump has made inroads in 2020 among some black, Latino and Asian American voters. Biden’s poll numbers remain poor, his age is a factor and there are fears of economic headwinds that could hurt any incumbent’s re-election chances.
“His vulnerabilities are tied to his age and whether it will be a pro-Biden vote to go along with an anti-Trump vote,” Smikle said. “A lot of Democrats who like his record still don’t see him as a great mobilizing figure.”