10 min read

Biden’s new strategy on Trump

Biden’s new strategy on Trump

by Gabe Fleisher

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, August 31, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 69 days away. Election Day 2024 is 797 days away.

“The former guy” no more: Biden’s new strategy for taking on Trump

Do you remember the days, early in his tenure, when President Joe Biden wouldn’t even invoke the name of his predecessor?

“I’m tired of talking about Donald Trump,” he said at one point. “The former guy,” Biden took to calling him.

That’s come to end.

In the past week, Biden — who once annoyed Democrats by praising his Republican rivals and calling national unity his focus — appears to have entered a newer, more combative stage of his presidency.

And instead of ignoring his former and possibly future rival, Trump — and Trumpism — is at the center of Biden’s newly sharpened rhetoric. It’s a clear acknowledgment that the former president remains an ever-present, unavoidable force in American politics, and that the 2024 rematch between the two men is already beginning to shape up.

You can see Biden’s shift in three ways:

→ In his schedule: Back in July, noting his tendency to absent himself from the largest events and negotiations of his presidency, I wrote that Biden was running a “hands-off presidency.”

That was even before Biden disappeared from the public limelight for practically an entire month, between two Covid quarantines and vacations in three different cities. Ironically, but not dissimilarly from the 2020 campaign, Biden’s stretch out of the public eye was probably one of the best of his presidency, at least based on his rising approval ratings.

Now, Biden is trying to maintain that momentum while he takes on a schedule unusually (for him) full of high-profile appearances and speeches on major topics. The new public-facing strategy began last week, with a rally in Maryland kicking off the midterm season. It continued with a speech on guns and safety in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

Next up: A rare primetime speech in Philadelphia on Thursday on threats to democracy and his 2020 campaign theme, the “battle for the soul of the nation.” Stops in Milwaukee and Pittsburgh to discuss the “dignity of American workers” on Labor Day. Remarks on “rebuilding American manufacturing” in Ohio that Friday. And a speech in Boston on the bipartisan infrastructure law the following Monday.

Do you notice a theme in most of those locations? Three visits to Pennsylvania in the space of a week, plus stops in Ohio and Wisconsin to boot. Hmm, I wonder what those states could possibly have in common?

President Biden in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday. (White House)

→ In his words: At each of these major addresses so far, Biden has peppered in a litany of digs aimed squarely across the aisle. At the Maryland rally, he charged that Republicans were “full of anger, violence, hate and division,” accusing them of practicing an “extreme MAGA philosophy” he termed “semi-facism.”

Referring to his predecessor, he crowed that “Donald Trump isn’t just a former president, he is a defeated former president.”

Biden also entered campaign mode during his speech in Wilkes-Barre yesterday, which was ostensibly an official event meant to unveil his “Safer America” policy plan. But the president repeatedly grabbed at opportunities to bash the GOP.

Addressing his “MAGA Republican friends in Congress,” Biden declared that “you can’t be pro-law enforcement and pro-insurrection.” He added for good measure: “For God’s sake, whose side are you on?”

In addition to mentioning January 6, he went on to cite Republican attacks on the FBI since the Mar-a-Lago raid earlier this month, calling the GOP rhetoric “sickening” and going out of his way to declare his opposition to “defunding the FBI.”

Biden specifically criticized comments made by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who recently warned of “riots in the street” if Trump is prosecuted. “The idea you turn on a television and see senior senators and congressmen saying, ‘If such and such happens, there’ll be blood in the street?’ Where the hell are we?” Biden asked, clearly referencing someone who was once among his closest Republican friends.

→ In his tweets: An oft-cited key to Biden’s success in the 2020 primaries and general election was that his campaign proudly scorned Twitter and social media.

“Twitter is not real life,” the president’s allies frequently scoffed, becoming something of an internal mantra.

But Team Biden seems to have come around to the power of social media in the past few days, not just by embracing the “Dark Brandon” meme. A quick perusal of the official @WhiteHouse Twitter handle shows a much more partisan edge in recent posts from the government account.

There are messages explicitly calling out to followers that “every single Republican in Congress” voted against the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act. A tweet criticizing the GOP and “extreme justices on the Supreme Court” for their stance on abortion rights. And another charging that “congressional Republicans racked up an enormous deficit” during their time in the majority.

And most notably, there was that viral thread bashing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and other Republicans who criticized student loan debt forgiveness after having Covid-era loans to their small businesses forgiven.

A recent example of the White House’s more partisan edge. (Twitter)

Ever since Trump rode down his gilded escalated, Democrats have debated whether they are best served by focusing their campaigns around attacking him or by sticking to kitchen-table policy issues.

In 2016, the party consensus was that Hillary Clinton’s messaging was too anti-Trump, not enough about the economy. In 2018, Democrats tried the opposite tack, to great effect.

In 2020, though, Biden broke with most of his primary rivals by focusing more on Trump and the “battle for the soul of the nation” than on any specific policy platform.

In 2022 and 2024, Biden appears to be melding the two strategies, by keeping his focus squarely aimed at Trump — but on his extremism in policy, not in personality. You can’t ever fully ignore Trump, he’s realized, but it is still possible to ignore the legal controversies that have never seemed to ignite much voter energy.

In the past few days, even amid all his talk about Trump, Biden has barely mentioned the reason Trump has mostly been in the news: the federal investigations into the ex-president.

Instead, Biden has focused his rhetoric on Trump’s “extreme MAGA philosophy” (as Biden puts it), attacking the ex-president and his allies for their stances on issues like abortion or support of law enforcement.

Both parties have now had six years of practice in running campaigns in the age of Trump. Republicans have yet to adopt a uniform strategy towards him, once again appearing unsure in recent days of whether or how to defend their putative leader and respond to his never-ending saga of scandal.

Democrats, meanwhile, seem to have shown something of a learning curve, with Biden testing out a new strategy that — if polls are to be believed — seems to be striking a chord with the electorate.

More news you should know

Trump investigations. In a new court filing on Tuesday, Justice Department prosecutors alleged that “efforts were likely taken” by former President Donald Trump and his attorneys “to obstruct the government’s investigation” into Trump’s handling of classified documents after leaving office.

“That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the ‘diligent search’ that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question” the veracity of a June statement by Trump’s lawyer that no more classified documents remained at Mar-a-Lago, the Justice Department said. Read more via Politico

The new filing included a photograph of the classified documents kept at Mar-a-Lago. (Justice Department)

Around the world. “Mikhail Gorbachev, who set out to revitalize the Soviet Union but ended up unleashing forces that led to the collapse of communism, the breakup of the state, and the end of the Cold War, died Tuesday. The last Soviet leader was 91.” Read more via the Associated Press

In the states. “The South Carolina House of Representatives on Tuesday advanced legislation that would ban nearly all abortion at every stage of pregnancy, after adding a last-minute amendment that includes exceptions for some cases of rape and incest.” Read more via CNN

  • “California’s Legislature passed a bill Tuesday that would for the first time in the U.S. require the makers of social-media apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok to consider the physical and mental health of minors when designing their products.” Read more via the Wall Street Journal

Ask Gabe: What’s a magistrate judge?

Brent writes: A question for you on the increasingly muddled Trump document case: Trump’s lawyers have filed a motion with Judge Cannon, a district judge, to appoint a person to review the seized documents.

The DOJ has been dealing through Judge Reinhardt, a magistrate judge. What is the difference between a district and a magistrate judge? Can lawyers just file motions with whichever judge they think will give a positive ruling?

This is a great question. There has indeed been a lot of legal twists and jargon in the Trump documents case and I hope Wake Up To Politics has been helpful to all of you in sorting through it.

There are three main types of federal judges: district court judges, circuit (also known as appeals) court judges, and Supreme Court justices. District courts are where trials take place at the federal law; their decision can then be appealed to the circuit courts. A tiny percentage of circuit court decisions are further accepted for appeal at the Supreme Court.

So how do magistrate judges fit in here? They are a lower level of jurist that was created by federal law in 1968 to help district courts manage their heavy workloads. Magistrate judges are appointed by a majority vote of the judges on their district court and then serve four or eight-year terms.

They generally help out with the beginning stages of a case: reviewing search warrants, overseeing the discovery process, or handling pretrial motions or hearings. Sometimes, they might also preside over civil trials or minor criminal trials, provided that both sides consent to not having a full district court judge preside.

In the Trump documents case, Bruce Reinhart is the magistrate judge who signed off on the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search warrant. He had been handling the case until Trump’s attorneys filed their motion seeking a special master to Aileen Cannon, a district judge in the same district court as Reinhart. (Special masters are third-party attorneys sometimes appointed by courts to handle part of a case; here, they would be reviewing whether any of the documents seized by the FBI are protected by attorney-client or executive privilege.)

Were Trump’s attorneys right to file to Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, instead of Reinhart? Cannon herself wasn’t sure, ordering Trump’s legal team after their initial filing to explain why they had gone to her. In their response, Trump’s lawyers essentially said that Reinhart’s role in the case was over now that the search warrant had been executed and that the type of motion they were filing was outside the scope of a magistrate judge.

The lawyers also cited an instance of the U.S. government doing the same thing they were — asking a district court judge to appoint a special master, after a magistrate judge had approved a search warrant — in a case involving Rudy Giuliani.

Which brings me to Bruce’s final question: yes, lawyers can (and do) try to pick in which jurisdictions their cases are heard in order to get a favorable judge (it’s known as “judge shopping”). Whether or not Trump’s team is doing that here will be up to Cannon to decide.

Aileen Cannon (left) and Bruce Reinhart (right).

Today at a glance

All times Eastern.

President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing (9 am). He has nothing else on his public schedule.

Vice President Kamala Harris has nothing on her public schedule.

First Lady Jill Biden will participate in a meeting on the Biden administration’s efforts to “strengthen the teaching profession and help K-12 school districts source talent to fill vacancies” (12:30 pm).

The meeting — which comes amid a teacher shortage in many areas — will also include White House domestic policy adviser Susan Rice, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ), teachers union leaders, and executives from job platforms like Handshake, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold her daily press briefing (2:45 pm).

The Senate is on recess until September 6.

The House is on recess until September 13.

The Supreme Court is on recess until October 3.

Before I go...

Here’s something fascinating that’s not about politics: There is a type of jellyfish — known as the Turritopsis dohrnii — that can “cheat death by rebirthing itself,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The jellyfish “can turn its biological clock backward and revert to a clump of juvenile cells,” the Journal reports, “even after reproducing sexually.”

While there are other types of jellyfish that have “some age reversal capacity,” only three keep the ability after reaching sexual maturity — and only the Turritopsis dohrnii keeps it fully.

Could studying this “immortal jellyfish” help us extend the human lifespan, too? That’s what a team of researchers in Spain is trying to find out, by mapping the jellyfish’s genome. Their research won’t make humans immortal, of course, but they hope it will provide clues to “better understand the pathologies of aging” for us too.

Read more from the Wall Street Journal.

That’s it for today. If you enjoy Wake Up To Politics, it’s always appreciated if you donate to support the newsletter or buy some merch. Or if you tell your friends and family to sign up at wakeuptopolitics.com.

If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to email me: my inbox is always open.

Thanks for waking up to politics! Have a great day.

— Gabe