The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The new anti-Biden attack, same as the old anti-Biden attack

Joe Biden in Wilmington, Del., on Tuesday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

On Thursday, news organizations reported the Trump campaign was temporarily suspending its ads to review messaging and strategy. This was widely treated as a reboot, one rooted in a recognition that, with Trump sinking behind presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a new approach was needed.

As one senior Trump campaign official told The Post: “We’ll be back on the air shortly, even more forcefully exposing Joe Biden as a puppet of the radical left wing.”

Well, now the Trump campaign has just rolled out a new ad attacking Biden, reports ABC News’s Will Steakin.

We’ll leave it to you to decide whether this new spot exposes Biden as a puppet of the left “even more forcefully” than previous efforts did. But you will quickly see that the emphasis on that line of attack is more or less indistinguishable from what you’ve heard for weeks:

President Trump's reelection campaign released this ad about the 'radical left' and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. (Video: Donald J. Trump for President)

Notably, this ad doesn’t just recapitulate previous attack lines. It also does so by recycling the same distortions used in previous ads.

The new ad features a narrator intoning, “defunding the police,” followed by Biden saying, “yes, absolutely.” Language on the screen claims this is “Biden’s plan.”

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But the footage of Biden saying those words is dishonestly clipped out of context. The original interview shows that he’s saying “yes, absolutely” to a question about whether more government funding should be redirected into social services and housing, and in it Biden reiterated opposition to defunding the police.

That’s in keeping with the more moderate goals of the police reform movement, which aim not to eliminate police but to prioritize other social programs designed to minimize the need for police-civilian contact in the first place.

Amusingly, the Trump campaign engaged in a very similar distortion before, by citing this exact same interview to justify an earlier ad similarly implying that Biden supports “defunding police departments.”

The Post’s Glenn Kessler awarded that effort Four Pinocchios. And this new one is similarly dishonest.

What’s strange about this recycled attack line — associating Biden with rioters and claiming he will allow them to take over — is that polling shows it’s not just generally failing, but failing with the very voters it’s supposed to be frightening back to Trump.

As I’ve noted, polling shows that college-educated whites trust Biden over Trump to handle crime and safety by a sizable margin, one that really swells among college-educated white women. Suburbanites and even seniors favor Biden on this question.

Meanwhile, suburbanites say in far larger percentages that the country will be less safe if Trump wins than say that about Biden. And other polling shows Biden beating Trump among suburbanites by double digits.

These are the voters who are supposed to run screaming back to Trump every time an ad paints an absurd picture of some imaginary Biden police-free dystopia. So plainly something isn’t working here.

On top of that, the country is now getting treated to new and concrete evidence that on the protests, Trump is an inciting, destructive force who is only making all the conflict worse. Now that Trump’s law enforcement officers have agreed to stand down in Portland, Ore., the latest protests there were far more calm. So this is a particularly odd time to recycle this attack.

One last point: This new attack line also links the notion that Biden will allow looters free rein to claims that he’ll bring about a “massive government takeover of health care” and “crushing” tax hikes.

We all just lived through a Democratic primary in which Biden was sharply criticized by the left for being too moderate on both health care and taxes.

But this is ridiculous in another way. The Trump campaign is attacking Biden for vowing to dramatically expand government health care amid a pandemic, even as Trump and the GOP are still trying to roll back health coverage for millions.

And the Trump campaign is attacking Biden for vowing to roll back Trump’s massive corporate tax cuts even as the economy is sliding into a massive, spiraling calamity that will require huge spending to stave off deepening misery for millions more.

Meanwhile, efforts at a new rescue package just collapsed because Trump and Republicans want to offer dramatically less help to suffering Americans than Democrats do. In the context of this deepening crisis largely of Trump’s making, does he really want a debate about health care and fiscal priorities?

All these attacks are the same old warmed-over nonsense. But they’re particularly off-point right now. Which again suggests the Trump campaign just doesn’t have a good argument.

Read more:

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George F. Will: America’s domestic tranquility depends on us administering the 2020 election right

David Von Drehle: All of Trump’s magic is here to behold

The Post’s View: Trump cannot move the vote. But he can undermine our trust in it.