Home News Biden vs. Trump: The Looming Rematch Hits a ‘Kickoff’ Moment

Biden vs. Trump: The Looming Rematch Hits a ‘Kickoff’ Moment

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Biden vs. Trump: The Looming Rematch Hits a ‘Kickoff’ Moment

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President Biden’s advisers are eager for the coming general-election fight and counting on voters to start paying more attention to Donald J. Trump, with the president himself even proposing and dashing off videos to ridicule the things his Republican rival says.

Mr. Trump is relishing the chance to contrast himself with Mr. Biden, as he did along the Texas-Mexico border last week, and trusting that Mr. Biden has the tougher job: convincing voters that their views of how the country is doing are wrong.

With the former president expected to rack up big wins on Super Tuesday and Mr. Biden preparing to deliver his State of the Union address on Thursday, this week is expected to clarify the coming choice for an American public that in many ways remains in disbelief that 2024 is headed toward a 2020 rematch.

Both campaigns see the coming days as a critical period that will set the tone and define the early contours of the presidential campaign.

By most accounts, Mr. Biden begins behind.

A New York Times/Siena College survey over the weekend showed Mr. Trump ahead 48 percent to 43 percent among registered voters. Mr. Biden is hampered by widespread concerns about his age and his handling of the job, fractures in the Democratic coalition over Israel and a general sourness about the state of the nation.

But Mr. Biden also enters the expected general election contest with a number of key structural advantages, including a sizable financial edge and a lack of distractions on the scale of Mr. Trump’s four criminal trials.

Quentin Fulks, Mr. Biden’s principal deputy campaign manager, said the campaign had been preparing for a week that will functionally serve as “the kickoff to the general election.”

“The problem that we’ve been facing is that a number of people are telling us that they’re not aware that this is a choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump,” Mr. Fulks said. “March is going to be our time to make that choice crystal clear.”

The month begins with Super Tuesday and is set to end with jury selection in Mr. Trump’s first criminal trial, in New York, for hush-money payments made secretly to a pornographic film star in the heat of the 2016 campaign. In between, Mr. Trump is expected to effectively clinch the nomination and complete a takeover that will give him operational control of the Republican National Committee.

“Whatever advantage they may have in timing, we will far surpass in the passion of our supporters and our ability to organize them,” said Chris LaCivita, one of two co-managers of the Trump campaign whom Mr. Trump plans to install as chief operating officer of the R.N.C. Polls show Mr. Trump so far better uniting his 2020 coalition than Mr. Biden. “They have a motivation problem,” Mr. LaCivita said. “We don’t.”

Mr. Trump, however, does have legal problems.

His team was elated last week when the U.S. Supreme Court laid out a timeline for hearing Mr. Trump’s claim of immunity from prosecution for his actions after his 2020 election loss to try to stay in power. The Supreme Court’s schedule pushes until late summer at the earliest Mr. Trump’s federal trial.

Nikki Haley is still running in the Republican primary but polls predict a wipeout on Super Tuesday, with 15 states in play. Mr. Trump’s team believes he could surpass a majority of delegates and secure the nomination as early as March 12. On Friday, the Republican National Committee is meeting in Texas and is expected to ratify Mr. Trump’s new pick to lead the party, Michael Whatley.

“We’re going to get 100 percent control of the mechanics we need,” Mr. LaCivita said.

The Biden team has long circled this Thursday’s State of the Union address as a pivot point, knowing it will be the president’s largest audience most likely until the summer convention and a chance both to sell a skeptical American public on his accomplishments and fill in a second-term agenda that has so far been scarce on details.

After the speech, Mr. Fulks said, the Biden campaign will unleash a “show of force,” with Mr. Biden’s first two stops already announced as events in Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Mr. Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and the first lady, Jill Biden, are all expected to fan out on the campaign trail. One sign of the Biden campaign’s early organizing edge: It is planning, along with the party, to open 31 general election offices in the next 30 days in the key battleground of Wisconsin alone.

Mr. Trump has yet to announce any general election staff in the state.

The first lady’s Saturday appearance in downtown Tucson, Ariz., offered a warning sign of the protests likely to greet the administration’s leading figures on the trail. Her “Women for Biden” event was interrupted four times in 15 minutes by dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters who object to her husband’s support for Israel in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The Biden team has stage-managed events to avoid such outbursts.

Mr. Trump arranged his own presidential-style photo op at the border at the same time as Mr. Biden’s official visit. Mr. Trump’s trip was announced days before Mr. Biden’s. In two Texas border cities, both men chatted with law enforcement officers, Mr. Biden indoors, Mr. Trump outside overlooking the Rio Grande — and Mr. Trump’s team pronounced itself pleased with the result.

“In an age where visuals matter, it’s probably a fight they won’t pick again,” Mr. LaCivita said.

But in a twist, many Democrats are now hoping for increased coverage of Mr. Trump. The current Biden team thinking is the more Trump the better, in order to remind voters about what they didn’t like about him in the first place. Some Biden officials welcomed national television networks carrying Super Tuesday’s results with special coverage because more voters would grapple with the reality of a Biden vs. Trump contest.

Mr. Trump’s advisers see a benefit to his time out of the limelight. The decision by social media platforms to banish him after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot has meant that his all-capital-letters screeds are now confined to his Truth Social website. That has kept some of his most raw and incendiary commentary confined to the conservative ecosystem, where only his supporters consume it.

To highlight some of Mr. Trump’s more inflammatory remarks, the Biden team has begun producing split-screen videos of the president watching them on an iPad and then delivering a pithy retort. The president is said to enjoy producing these videos, according to three people familiar with the matter. Mr. Biden himself had, on a recent fund-raising swing, pitched the specific video responding to Mr. Trump comparing himself to Aleksei Navalny, the Russian dissident who died in prison, two of the people said.

One concern that Mr. Trump’s allies have had for months is being out-raised — and therefore outspent — by the Biden campaign, the Democratic Party and allied groups.

The main super PAC aligned with Mr. Biden has already announced a $250 million television and digital ad reservation beginning in August. Mr. Trump’s super PAC had less than $20 million on hand entering February, and was refunding $5 million each month to an account paying Mr. Trump’s mammoth legal fees.

Taylor Budowich, the chief executive of the Trump super PAC, which is providing briefings to several of its top donors at Mar-a-Lago on Super Tuesday, said his group had the easier political task despite the financial disparity.

“He has the job of convincing people what they believe and feel isn’t true,” Mr. Budowich said of Mr. Biden and voter displeasure with the nation’s direction. “We have the job of convincing people that it is true — and the guy currently in charge is responsible for it.”

Mr. Trump will keep talking about the economy, immigration, energy and, as he puts it, the “weaponization of government” against him through four indictments.

Mr. Biden’s team sees abortion and Mr. Trump’s appointment of Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade — and the recent Alabama court ruling on in vitro fertilization — as powerful messages. The president’s State of the Union speech is expected to feature an economic agenda that contrasts with Mr. Trump’s.

Mr. Trump’s team sees immigration as a particularly resonant issue to press with Black voters in large cities where there have been influxes of migrants from the southern border.

The super PAC supporting Mr. Trump will start running ads Monday on Black radio stations in Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, emphasizing the migrant crisis and Mr. Biden’s support for transgender protections. Despite a lengthy history of racist statements, Mr. Trump is performing better in polls with Black voters than he has in his previous campaigns. The Biden campaign has been trying to shore up its support with Black voters with its own advertising.

Mr. Trump’s legal exposure is likely to dominate the news in the coming weeks, with his New York trial set to begin on March 25. Privately, several Trump allies marveled at the timing breaks he has had throughout the process. The Manhattan trial could be the only pre-election trial he faces.

The case, however, is expected to last six weeks, taking him off the campaign trail for days at a time. One person familiar with internal discussions, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Mr. Trump would most likely campaign on weekends, and use Wednesdays — when the trial is expected to pause each week — for fund-raising or to meet with advisers.

No presidential candidate has ever campaigned under such circumstances.

Kellen Browning contributed reporting from Tucson, Ariz., and Michael Gold from Eagle Pass, Texas.



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