As Biden weighs a 2024 bid, his strategy hinges on a Trump rematch

When former President Trump announced his third bid for the White House last month, President Biden was on the other side of the world, calling an emergency meeting of world leaders following reports of explosions on Poland’s border with Ukraine.

Trump, who has been indicted twice and now faces multiple civil and criminal investigations, used an hour-long speech to offer a well-known refrain from attacks on his challengers and complaints about his election defeat. Biden, meanwhile, huddled with foreign leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, to figure out how to prevent the Ukraine conflict from escalating.

White House staffers and Democratic activists are hoping for more of these split-screen moments ahead of a presidential campaign that could be a 2020 repeat of the contest. Trump’s decision to jump into the race two years before Election Day establishes one of the longest election cycles in US history, a timeline that is forcing Biden to be more strategic about when to engage directly with the former president and when to turn him off .

Biden, who said he “wouldn’t be disappointed” in facing Trump again, has yet to make an official bid but said he intends to run and is expected to announce a decision after the holidays. At 80, he is the oldest president in office and older than Ronald Reagan when he left office after two terms. On election day 2024 he will be almost 82 years old.

However, Biden’s party is pretending to run. It has already started hiring media workers in key states.

Though other Republican hopefuls like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and former Vice President Mike Pence eye a run in the White House, Biden officials and Democrats are determined to make Trump the face of the GOP — a tactic the Party helped in an unexpectedly strong midterm election and one they hope will be successful in a 2024 match-up.

Biden began his presidency by selectively mentioning his predecessor, referring to him only as “the former man.” But ahead of last month’s election, he attacked Republicans who supported Trump’s Make America Great Again movement and worked to link the party to an extremist agenda he says centered on rolling back abortion rights and amplifying Trump’s falsehoods about the 2020 election.

Critics argued the president ignored pocketbook issues like inflation and the economy, but abortion and threats to democracy proved motivating issues, helping Democrats beat historical trends. The 2022 election marked the first time since 1934 that Democrats won both Senate seats and governorships in the medium term while also controlling the White House.

West Wing officials feel vindicated, say Biden aides and advisers. They plan to stick to the same formula in 2024: portraying Republicans as extremists beholden to Trump while the President takes to the streets to measure the impact of his legislative victories on infrastructure, fighting climate change and boosting semiconductor manufacturing in the United States The US White House plans to use the same playbook to draw a contrast with Republicans in Congress, who have vowed to investigate the Biden administration if they take control of the House of Representatives in January.

Many people “will define the Republican Party and the Republican nominee by 2024. It’s not just the candidate,” said Ben LaBolt, a former Obama spokesman who remains close to the White House. “It will depend on whether House Republicans will focus on issues that matter to the American people or on a series of government investigations that the American people have made clear they don’t care about .”

According to a Morning Consult poll released in November, fewer than 3 in 10 Americans said they would like Congress to focus on investigations into the president’s impeachment or the business dealings of the president’s son, Hunter Biden.

At the White House, officials have spent months preparing for a possible rematch between Biden and Trump. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon, who led Biden’s 2020 campaign, and senior adviser Anita Dunn are managing the political message, while other longtime hands including Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon are involved in campaign strategy are. Those efforts include the release of a new webpage promoting the government’s legislative records hours before Trump announced his run at his Mar-a-Lago estate. During the former president’s speech, Biden’s Twitter account posted a video titled “Donald Trump Failed America,” flashing scenes from Trump’s four-year tenure.

In the weeks since Trump announced his campaign, he’s made headlines for dining with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and Kanye West, who have been widely condemned for anti-Semitic comments. He also raised eyebrows when he called for the suspension of the Constitution following a report on Twitter’s moderation decisions during the 2020 election.

“Imagine four more years until the last guy shows up,” Biden told a small group of donors at a fundraiser in Boston last week.

The White House condemned Trump’s comments on the Constitution and urged Republicans to reject them, taking the opportunity to underscore an explicit threat to democracy, aides say.

The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, has tried to tie the field of potential Republican lead candidates to Trump and his extreme comments.

The DNC has already begun preparations for the next election, hiring communications staff in four early-election states — Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — as well as Florida, home of both Trump and DeSantis. The hires are the first the party has deployed on-site communications personnel in a presidential election cycle, according to a Democratic official. As of spring 2021, about 40 DNC researchers have been following media coverage of Trump and other potential GOP candidates.

After the GOP’s lackluster midterm results and Trump’s comments on the Constitution, some Republicans have suggested the party should ditch its flag-bearer. But Republicans pondered a similar question after the January 6, 2021 attacks.

“I don’t think we should underestimate the stickiness of his base,” LaBolt said. “He has an opportunity to spread a more effective and lasting message, but he certainly doesn’t have that yet.”

Trump’s decision to run has drawn historical comparisons to former President Grover Cleveland, who lost his reelection bid to Benjamin Harrison in 1888, only to oust Harrison four years later. But even with his defeat, Cleveland won the popular vote. Trump lost the popular vote twice.

Cleveland could be the exception compared to other presidential candidates who have been re-nominated after losing elections. Democrat William Jennings Bryan was nominated twice after losing to former President William McKinley in 1896, and did worse each time. Adlai Stevenson twice ran against former Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, receiving fewer votes the second time. Aside from Cleveland, Richard Nixon is the only losing presidential candidate to win on the second attempt.

“It’s the old adage about the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” said University of Chicago political scientist John Mark Hansen.

Though the White House remains confident in its strategy, the political winds are turning fast, Republican strategist Doug Heye said, noting that a year ago Democrats were resigned to the idea that they could lose control of Congress while the parties bicker over legislative priorities and follow the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“I don’t think Republicans are going to be pointing the finger at Donald Trump in a year and a half because Dan Cox, Doug Mastriano and Herschel Walker were terrible candidates,” Heye said, referring to the Trump-backed candidates who lost in November had . “When the Democrats tell you that in a year and a half the Republicans will challenge the primary system again from the Midterms… that’s very wishful thinking.”

Investigations into both Biden and Trump could also help shape the 2024 campaign. Republicans’ thin control of the House of Representatives gives right-wing members more political clout as they seek to bolster Biden’s credibility through oversight investigations into the COVID-19 pandemic, border security, China and the House Committee’s investigation into the January 6 attacks to damage.

Trump also faces a number of civil and criminal investigations, including a federal probe into his possible misuse of classified documents, and state and federal investigations into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election result.

“It’s obviously very difficult to judge where we will be legally, let alone politically, in a year and a half,” Heye said.

While the midterm election results have allowed Biden to put in an extended victory lap, they have not changed public opinion about his performance. A new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 43% of adults approve of the way Biden goes about his work, compared to 55% who disagree — virtually unchanged from his approval rating in October .

Those stubbornly low approval ratings haven’t kept Biden at home. He’s spent the weeks since the election promoting parliamentary victories in key battleground states, including Michigan and Arizona.

Asked last month what he would do differently over the next two years to allay voter concerns about the country’s direction, the president replied, “Nothing.”

“They’re just finding out what we’re doing,” Biden said. “The more they know about what we do, the more support there is.”

But the biggest challenge facing Biden and Trump may be convincing the rest of the country that one of them should run again, according to a CNBC All-America Economic Survey released Friday.

The poll found that 61% of the public think Trump should not run for office again. A full 70% said Biden should not seek another term. As Biden weighs a 2024 bid, his strategy hinges on a Trump rematch

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