Trump on Trial vs. Biden on the Trail: An Unusual 2024 Stretch Begins

Trump on Trial vs. Biden on the Trail: An Unusual 2024 Stretch Begins

American voters saw an extraordinary split-screen campaign for the first time this week, with President Biden sprinting through one of the most closely contested states in the country and former President Donald J. Trump sitting in a New York courtroom – watching seemed to be dozing.

As has been the case for years, the country’s political map has hardened into a battle between a handful of key swing states. With Trump required to appear in a lower Manhattan courtroom, he has virtually no choice but to continue being a weekend warrior in those states. Now Mr. Biden has the electoral landscape largely to himself for much of the week.

Mr. Biden campaigned across Pennsylvania, portraying Mr. Trump as an out-of-touch plutocrat and garnering support from the Kennedy family. In Scranton, the president’s hometown where he grew up, he eschewed “Bidenomics” — the right-wing derisive term for his economic policies that White House aides tried and largely failed to recapture — and instead argued that voters care about the economy The choice would be between “Scranton values” or “Scranton values”. Mar-a-Lago values.”

Two days later in Philadelphia, he linked the assassinations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy to Mr. Trump’s vision of “rage, hatred, revenge and retaliation” and acceptance of political violence.

“Your family, the Kennedy family, has endured such violence,” Mr. Biden told several Kennedys as he accepted their support. “To deny January 6 and whitewash what happened is absolutely outrageous.”

The Pennsylvania trip was part of Mr. Biden’s shift to a more aggressive campaign stance against Mr. Trump. Since his State of the Union address in March, he has visited all the battleground states and delivered a revised message to voters that contrasts the current president’s policies with those of his predecessor on a range of issues, including abortion rights, democratic norms and taxes. aggravates politics and economics.

The president’s attempt to turn the race into a binary choice between him and Mr. Trump – rather than a traditional re-election referendum on the incumbent – was bolstered by live play-by-play coverage of Mr. Trump’s court appearances. So far, Mr. Biden and his team have been careful to say next to nothing about the trial or Mr. Trump’s other three criminal cases.

Nevertheless, the images require little narrative. Mr. Biden, campaigning across the country, looks like a conventional presidential candidate. Mr. Trump sits in the courtroom looking like a criminal defendant.

For months, Democratic strategists, candidates and officials privately worried that Mr. Biden’s campaign was underperforming in what was widely expected to be a razor-thin contest, questioning the president’s energy levels, swing-state operations and message.

But the new vibrancy of the campaign appears to be allaying some of those fears. Several Democrats praised the Biden team’s quick response last week as it launched a cross-state attack blaming Mr. Trump for a court ruling in Arizona that upheld a near-total 1864 abortion ban. Mr Biden’s campaign has built a huge financial advantage, leaving Mr Trump scrambling to raise money. And after being criticized for slow hiring, the Biden operation now has 120 field offices and staff deployed to every battlefield.

Much of her efforts in recent weeks have focused on ensuring that key parts of her coalition — Latino voters, black voters and independents — understand the choice between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, including through advertising on nonpolitical television shows “Abbott Elementary” and March Madness games.

David Axelrod, the architect of former President Barack Obama’s campaigns and one of the most vocal Democratic critics of Mr. Biden’s bid, praised the campaign and said the president was showing new “vitality and fighting spirit.”

“In this business, you’re either the stick or the piñata, and Biden has been more of a stick than a piñata over the last six weeks,” he said. “They stand on their front legs and not on their hind legs, and that is the first requirement for victory.”

Campaign aides say they want to continue to focus on the unemployment rate, inflation and other issues as they monitor Mr. Trump’s trial.

“We’re really focused on the American people and the issues around the kitchen table that they talk about every day,” said Quentin Fulks, Mr. Biden’s principal deputy campaign manager. “We don’t believe the American people are sitting at their kitchen table thinking about whether Donald Trump is sleeping in court.”

It remains unclear how voters will respond to the legal threat to Mr. Trump and whether Mr. Biden can overcome negative views of his leadership. Recent polls by the New York Times and Siena College showed that Biden had nearly wiped out Mr. Trump’s lead, but also suggested that broad majorities of registered voters favored the president’s handling of the economy, immigration, foreign conflicts and the maintenance of law and order.

On the trail, Mr. Biden has generally shown a more confident and forceful presence than the wavering old man image promoted by Mr. Trump, a continuation of the president’s confrontational stance on the State of the Union.

He showed particular emotion and anger as he spoke about comments Mr. Trump allegedly made about Americans killed in combat being “suckers” and “losers.” Mr. Biden has long believed that his son Beau’s 2015 death from brain cancer resulted from his exposure to toxic burn pits while serving in Iraq.

“This man does not deserve to be my son’s commander in chief,” Mr. Biden said, choking in Pittsburgh. (Mr Trump denies making these comments about US soldiers.)

Supporters of Mr. Biden say they have seen a surge of energy from Mr. Biden as he campaigned across the country in recent weeks.

“You can just hear that he understands what this election is about,” said state representative Malcolm Kenyatta, Democrat of Pennsylvania, who attended Mr. Biden’s speech in Philadelphia.

Still, Mr. Biden’s events remain tightly controlled, many limited to invited guests, and the media often steers clear of uncontrolled interactions with voters. When Mr. Biden met with workers at a construction site in Pittsburgh — under a sign saying the project had been funded by Mr. Biden’s infrastructure bill — reporters stood too far away to hear what the workers seemed to hear , who appeared to express their gratitude, the president said.

He continues to be dogged by loud protests against his support of Israel in the Gaza war. Throughout the Pennsylvania trip, including a visit to his parents’ home in Scranton and an overnight stay at his hotel, Mr. Biden was dogged by pro-Palestinian protesters, a reminder of the deep divisions in the Democratic Party over the war.

And his appearance was not without some of Mr. Biden’s trademark flourishes. On Tuesday, Mr. Biden suggested twice that his uncle may have been eaten by cannibals after his plane was shot down over New Guinea during World War II. U.S. government records of missing military personnel say the plane was lost in a crash at sea and the soldiers’ bodies were never recovered. However, cannibalism was not mentioned.

In a carpenters’ union hall, Mr. Biden told a convoluted anecdote about meeting his first wife, Neilia Hunter, on a college trip to the Bahamas and telling her that he planned to marry her on their first date. The story hinted at some clearly adult details.

“I swear to God, I hadn’t kissed her, we hadn’t done anything together,” Mr. Biden said with a laugh while flanked by several children.

At times, the volume of his speaking voice fluctuated considerably, ranging from booming to inaudible, and he made a number of verbal blunders and blunders.

Those missteps attracted far less attention than Mr. Trump’s criminal case. Every aspect of the trial was subject to intense media scrutiny, including details such as whether Mr. Trump’s eyes remained open or closed as he listened to the proceedings.

In a statement attributed to an unnamed “spokesperson,” the Trump campaign denied that the former president slept on the court. But the incident highlighted how little control Mr. Trump and his aides have over the optics of a campaign that is suddenly being played out in court. Most of Mr. Trump’s days are now governed by the rules of Judge Juan M. Merchan, the judge overseeing the case.

Mr. Trump’s advisers are trying to compensate for Mr. Trump’s limited schedule with weekend rallies in swing states and weekday campaign stops in New York City. But some have privately expressed concerns that events on the ground are making the former president look smaller, as if he were running for mayor or governor.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump made a campaign stop at a bodega in Harlem, where he used a 2022 knife attack to attack Democrats, including the Manhattan district attorney, for being too lax on crime. He said one benefit of his process is that it “makes me campaign locally, and that’s fine.”

But Mr. Trump’s stage was not a well-lit podium in front of a packed crowd, but a store that essentially consisted of a narrow aisle and a sidewalk outside, although the patio of a neighboring restaurant was full of supporters who burst into chants of the name Mr. Trump and “four more years.”

On Saturday, Mr. Trump will travel to North Carolina for a rally at an airport hangar. He will return to the Manhattan courtroom days later.

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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2024-04-19 13:11:35