WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Donald Trump and his allies are planning sustained personal and reputational attacks against Joe Biden, casting him as ill-equipped for the presidency and pushing unsubstantiated claims of corruption as he emerges as the favorite for the Democratic nomination.
The president and his top campaign aides are stoking division among Democrats, arguing that Biden is only taking the lead in the Democratic contest because the party's establishment is aligned against progressive rival Bernie Sanders. Fox News host Sean Hannity is portraying the 77-year-old Biden as a doddering old man, devoting nearly 10 minutes of his show Tuesday night to what he called “disturbing" verbal miscues.
And some Republicans in the Senate are moving to ensure there will be renewed scrutiny of Biden's son Hunter and his ties to a Ukrainian gas company that put him on its board while his father was vice president. There's no evidence that Biden or his son engaged in misconduct with Burisma, the gas company.
The sometimes-misleading tactics are a reprise of Trump's 2016 playbook against his Republican foes and, ultimately, Hillary Clinton. By deploying the same methods, Trump and his allies believe that voters will favor the president's combative nature and emphasis on conflict over Biden's appeal to restore decency and honesty to the White House.
But that burn-it-down style will be tested anew before a Democratic Party that is showing signs of greater unity against Trump than four years ago and hopes to build on victories from the 2018 midterms.
“Increased turnout and all of these big wins across the country make clear voters aren't buying what Trump is selling this time," said Scott Mulhauser, a Democratic strategist and former Biden spokesman. “They know the Vice President, they like him and it's clear they think he can win in November.”
But some Republicans warn against overconfidence by Democrats and note that Trump has a unique ability to define his opponents in ways that resonate.
“We’ve seen this movie before. Nobody is better at driving a narrative about his opponents than Donald Trump,” said Republican consultant Terry Sullivan, who ran Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “Love him or hate him, there is no denying that he is a branding master.”