These commercials, which run a total of three minutes, represent something rare this year: attacks by down-ballot candidates on Democratic nominee for president. According to Ad Analytics, which tracks TV buys, no other commercials by Republican candidates for House or Senate have bothered with Biden, focusing more frequently on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.
Four months after Super Tuesday, four months before the general election, Biden has not become the focus of Republican or conservative attacks at the level of recent Democratic nominees. That’s not for a lack of trying by President Trump’s campaign, which has spent tens of millions of dollars attacking Biden. But the early summer period that’s typically used to define a presidential challenger has left Biden largely undamaged, with Democrats down the ballot happily associating themselves with him.
“Hillary Clinton had 30 years of hard negatives against her, and Nancy Pelosi was a leader on liberal issues like Obamacare,” said Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist whose stints at the National Republican Congressional Committee produced countless attacks on Pelosi. “They were in the spotlight in a way that a vice president operating in Barack Obama’s shadow just wasn’t. And Biden has been adept at not always taking the bait on stuff like ‘defund the police’ or the Green New Deal. He just doesn’t come off as polarizing.”
Biden’s image, and the troubles that Republicans might have in muddying it, was one of the major arguments for his candidacy. That didn’t always inspire Democratic primary voters. In the run-up to Iowa’s caucuses, former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack urged voters to “think about the people in the middle” and pick Biden to appeal to them, even if they were more in agreement with another candidate.
That argument didn’t sell in Iowa or New Hampshire, but it clicked in South Carolina and quickly got Biden the nomination. The months since then have been a study in Republican frustration, with Biden’s personal favorable rating holding steady in the high 40s and no particular personal attack on Biden breaking through with focus groups.
“You can try to paint him as a radical, but it’s not going to work,” Vilsack’s husband, former agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, said in an interview. “There may be a lot of reasons, both in terms of race and in terms of gender, that made Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton susceptible to that kind of stuff. Joe Biden is a white guy.”
That’s one theory for why Biden, despite two previous runs for president, has simply not churned up much voter anger. No recent Democratic nominee has entered the summer of a presidential election without a clear effort to portray them as dangerous. By this point in 2016, the conservative publisher Regnery was selling eight books about Hillary Clinton; by this point in 2012, it was selling 13 books about Barack Obama.
The publisher is offering just one book about this year’s nominee, the upcoming “The Biden Deception,” which asks whether Biden is a “crypto-socialist.” That’s it, and no other books critical of Biden, specifically, are being published right now. Dinesh D’Souza, who produced election-year books and documentaries about both Obama and Clinton, is now selling “The United States of Socialism,” in which Biden appears only a few times as a “socialist lite,” with more attention paid to the business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter and brother Jimmy than to Biden’s own record. Peter Schweizer, whose “Clinton Cash” and related 2016 articles provided ammo for the Trump campaign, dealt briefly with Biden in a book about “America's progressive elite.”
David Freddoso, a conservative journalist who published “The Case Against Barack Obama” for Regnery in August 2008, watched it hit the New York Times bestseller list, then published two more takedowns of the 44th president. He doubted that there would be as much interest in a similar Biden book.
“There was a real hunger for knowledge about Obama in 2008,” Freddoso said. “He was intriguing and unknown. People perceived him as something different, and as someone with a future. Biden can't pretend to be any of those things. He's also running against an incumbent who is everyone's center of attention. If your goal is to generate interest and sell books, you're probably better off this time writing about Trump.”
There has been digging into Biden’s record, but none of it has stirred conservative passions. The Republican National Committee briefly campaigned for the release of Biden’s Senate papers, which are being held by the University of Delaware until after his career in “public life” is over. But it has not mentioned that issue since May 12, a night-and-day difference with the demands Clinton faced for her emails or that Obama faced for his birth and college records.
The conservative group Judicial Watch has sued for those papers and sued for Hunter Biden’s business records, but neither effort has gotten much attention. In a recent, seven-minute segment with Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs repeatedly pivoted to other stories, asking Fitton about the Supreme Court’s electoral college ruling and the president’s July 3 speech at Mount Rushmore.
“I want to take up the Biden issue, and I’m talking about the Hunter Biden issue, with 10 percent ownership in that private equity, Chinese, private equity firm,” Dobbs said. “But I want to get a sense, from you, as to the president taking on, for the first time, corporate America and its role in this left-wing fascism that is being bred in this country.”
Republican attacks on Biden have adjusted to the candidate's outrage-deficient image. In its own advertising, the Trump campaign portrays Biden as “weak” and “declining,” arguing that he would not truly be running the country if he won the election. In a Fourth of July tweet, sometime Trump adviser Newt Gingrich wrote that he was not “afraid of Joe Biden” but afraid of the Democrats his win would empower.
“Precisely because Biden is weak he would be dominated by Pelosi and Schumer,” Gingrich wrote. In a column three days later, former New Hampshire senator Judd Gregg went further, arguing without evidence that “the socialist/progressive wing of the Democratic Party” would engineer a “coup” if Biden won, installing a new left-wing president that the country had never gotten to vet.
“Within a few months of assuming the presidency, Biden may find himself being the next statue toppled as the socialist/progressive movement moves closer to power,” Gregg wrote. “Replacing him with his vice president could be deemed necessary to the cause.”
At the start of the year, Republicans hoped to be running against of those other Democrats. Ahead of the South Carolina primary, as Biden reeled, Republicans prepared to mourn him: a Democrat they could do business with, defeated by his party's radical left.
“I’d say he’s probably the most likely one to have a chance at beating Donald Trump,” former House speaker Paul D. Ryan told CNBC in February. “But I don’t see Joe getting the nomination, I just don’t see him getting there. I think it’s going be one of these progressives, which I think will be much easier to beat.”
Five months later, the Democratic nominee has given Republicans little to work with, and even his critics inside the party are delighted. At his June 30 news conference in Wilmington, Biden distanced himself from protesters who've torn down, or called for the removal, of statues celebrating America's founders. In lieu of a gaffe, Republicans accused him of being too meek to condemn those protesters.
“Dems support the riots. The vandals. The anarchists,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas tweeted. “That’s their base. And they’re terrified to offend them.”
That inspired a response from Ocasio-Cortez, who had endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, and once said that in another country, she and Biden would belong to different political parties.
“Yes, that is precisely why the party nominated... Joe Biden,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “Is it me, or is the GOP losing their touch with the conspiracy-theory-as-campaign-rhetoric technique?”
“Trump’s push to amplify racism unnerves Republicans who have long enabled him,” by Robert Costa and Philip Rucker
The early backlash to the Mount Rushmore speech, which has been revisited as Republicans look for a winning message.
“The marijuana superweapon Biden refuses to use,” by Edward-Isaac Dovere
Why an old drug warrior is resistant to the latest, popular thinking on pot.
A profile of a campaign strategist who fought her way into the inner circle.
“How Biden's foreign policy team got rich,” by Jonathan Guyer
Worries from the left about Biden's foreign policy team.
A guide to racial politics in an older conservative stronghold.
In the states
The Democratic presidential primary is not over. Yes, Joe Biden has secured enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. Yes, his Democratic rivals have endorsed him. But three states and Puerto Rico, all of which had delayed their primaries due to the coronavirus pandemic, are finally picking delegates this week. And former Bernie Sanders campaign staffers are still encouraging supporters to back him and increase his clout at the DNC.
Two of those states vote today, Delaware and New Jersey. (Louisiana votes this weekend.) In the former vice president's adopted home state, he's favored to win all 21 delegates, thanks both to his local strength and to the state's demographics.
Black voters regularly make up a third of the Democratic electorate in Delaware, and the state's biggest population center, New Castle County, contains the kind of suburbs that rallied behind Biden when the primary was still competitive. Combine that with Sanders's weakness in the Maryland counties that border rural Delaware, and Elizabeth Warren's presence on the ballot, and it may be a stretch for Sanders to hit the 15 percent of the vote needed to secure a delegate. The most interesting aspect of the election may be that Delaware used it to experiment with online, secured voting, though it halted that after concerns were raised by voters.
There are 126 delegates at stake in New Jersey, the biggest prize still left on the calendar; like Delaware, it wasn't friendly territory for Sanders four years ago. (He won 37 percent of the vote there, compared with 39 percent in the First State.) Like Texas, New Jersey assigns some of its delegates statewide and the rest to winners in state legislative districts. Sanders won just one of those districts, in red and rural northwest New Jersey, four years ago, and he ran strongly around college campuses. Unlike Delawareans, New Jersey voters will have just two candidates on their ballots, but they'll have an “uncommitted” option, too, and the choice of a no-name protest vote has probably cost Sanders delegates in other states, such as Kentucky.
Delaware won't hold the rest of its statewide elections until September, but New Jersey's congressional primaries will end tomorrow, and four of them are worth watching. The bitterest race is in the 2nd District, which Rep. Jeff Van Drew won as a Democrat two years ago, only to switch parties when polling found his vote against impeachment potentially costing him the seat in a primary. (Van Drew has since flipped on a multitude of issues, co-sponsoring statehood for D.C. before voting against it.) He faces an intraparty challenge from Bob Patterson, who ran in a different seat on the other side of the state four years ago and has spent only around $200,000 on this race.
Five Democrats are fighting for the right to face Van Drew. The strongest fundraiser has been Amy Kennedy, the wife of former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy, making her first run for office. Local Democratic support had gone to Brigid Callahan Harrison, a Montclair State University political scientist; Kennedy has tried to jujitsu that against Harrison, portraying herself as an anti-machine candidate, even though her husband had tried to win south Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross over to her campaign. Will Cunningham, a former Hill staffer who ran unsuccessfully in the 2018 primary, has struggled to break through, with liberal groups such as the Working Families Party sticking with Kennedy, seeking to avoid the 2018 vote split that helped Van Drew win in the first place. Two other Democrats are on the ballot but have done little campaigning.
Democrats flipped three other New Jersey House seats two years ago, all of them heading for very different November races. In the 3rd District, either venture capitalist David Richter or county politician Kate Gibbs will win the right to face Rep. Andy Kim. In the 7th District, state Sen. Tom Kean, the son of the state's most popular living Republican governor, is already one of the party's strongest recruits; he's expected to beat two gadfly candidates and face Rep. Tom Malinowski. (There are no primaries in the 11th District, where Rep. Mikie Sherrill already knows her GOP opponent, former Hill aide Rosemary Becchi.)
The rest of Tuesday's contrast are Democratic family feuds, with left-wing candidates working to best incumbents who've outspent them and, in the past, rolled past opposition easily. In the 5th District, which moderate Rep. Josh Gottheimer is the first Democrat to represent, city councilor Arati Kreibich has run from the left, arguing that constituents can do better than a congressman who frequently votes against party leadership and with Republicans. But since getting organized after the 2016 election, insurgent Democrats have struggled to beat incumbents in swing seats; the 5th District has been moving toward the party but was carried by the president four years ago by a single point.
The 8th District is one of the safest Democratic seats in New Jersey and a test for whether the kind of campaign that elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York can win across the river. Hector Oseguera is the first serious challenger to Rep. Albio Sires, who won the seat 14 years ago and has made few waves in Congress. Oseguera won an early victory when he secured the “A” line on the ballot, the first one voters see in the booth; the district's Democratic leaders countered that by making sure Joe Biden led the “B” line, the one Sires would appear under. While Oseguera has spent just $42,183 on the race, Sires, who does not face credible Republican challengers, spent and raised less than $400,000, a pittance in a safe seat. (New York Rep. Eliot Engel spent nearly $1.4 million on his primary against challenger Jamaal Bowman, which has yet to be called.)
Brigid Callahan Harrison, “Cory Booker.” The Democrat who has locked up the most institutional support in today's key House primary has made the most of it, here using the state's best-known (and widely liked) Democratic figure to encourage voters to turn in ballots. “There's a reason firefighters, grocery store workers, and laborers support Brigid Harrison,” Booker says; a reflection of coronavirus-era politics, with grocery workers mentioned in the same breath as jobs more commonly mentioned in ads.
Amy Kennedy, “Matters.” The well-funded quasi-outsider's closing ad looks like the sort that Democrats have been running everywhere, from a loose focus on “affordable” health care to rebuilding after the pandemic. The twist comes at the end, when there's a quick shot of John, Bobby and Ted Kennedy standing together. “I'll continue the Kennedy legacy of putting people first,” Kennedy says.
Jeff Van Drew, “Values.” The onetime conservative Democrat has abandoned all trappings of the party he got elected with, and his closing pre-primary ad could be run by any Republican, anywhere: a pledge to help the president build the wall, more footage of President Trump talking than of the candidate talking, and even a quick hit on the “radicals” in Congress, personified as Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi.
NRSC, “Options.” Steve Bullock's presidential campaign established him as a centrist Democrat who opposed the party's left flank on issues such as health care. Here, the GOP's campaign committee tries to undo that work, arguing that by giving Democrats control of the Senate, Bullock would grease the skids for Medicare-for-all, a policy he has never supported. “Steve Bullock in the Senate could put Democrats in charge to create a $32 trillion government health-care system that would raise taxes, limit your choice and access to health care,” a narrator warns.
President Trump approval rating (Gallup, 1,016 registered voters)
Gallup no longer does trial heat polling, giving up on it after its final pre-election poll in 2012 found Mitt Romney slightly ahead of Barack Obama. But it does a monthly check of the president's approval rating, and after finding a rise in the start of the year, it has found voters drifting away since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The headlines focused on Trump's 38 percent approval rating — well below the number incumbent presidents have been elected with — but it's the withering of swing-vote support that tells the story. Just one demographic group, white voters without college degrees, supports the president with a clear majority. Meanwhile, while 48 percent of white voters with degrees backed Trump four years ago, per exit polling, just 33 percent of them approve of his performance now.
Joe Biden's do-no-harm campaigning continued through and past the holiday weekend, with no public events, some fundraising and the aforementioned video celebrating the Fourth of July. On Thursday, he'll head to Pennsylvania's Lackawanna County, the place where he was born and where Republicans have made gains recently, to deliver a speech on an economic plan that was delayed by the George Floyd protests.
President Trump, meanwhile, announced his first rally since the underwhelming turnout in Tulsa: an outdoor event in Portsmouth, N.H., a swing-state seacoast town with easy access to another swing state, Maine.
While the president's Twitter feed has reeled between issues, frequently related to protests and historic statues, the president's team has suggested more executive actions in the coming weeks, which could be used to refocus his campaign.
“This president will do more in the next four weeks than Joe Biden and his team did in the last 40 years,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said in a Monday morning interview on Fox News. “We’re going to be looking at how we make sure China is addressed, how we bring manufacturing back from overseas to make sure the American worker is supported. We’re also going to look at a number of issues as it relates to immigration. We’re going to look at a number of issues as it relates to prescription drug prices and we’re going to get them done when Congress couldn’t get them done.”
Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois has only recently been mentioned as a top vice presidential option for Joe Biden; over 36 hours, she became the most talked-about candidate. On Sunday, Duckworth appeared on CNN's “State of the Union” to discuss the president's Mount Rushmore speech and fell into some of the culture war traps that Biden had avoided.
“He spent all his time talking about dead traitors,” Duckworth said. “Remember that the president at Mount Rushmore was standing on ground that was stolen from Native Americans who had actually been given that land during a treaty.” When asked by CNN's Dana Bash whether statues of George Washington should be taken down, Duckworth said “we should listen to everybody” and “listen to the argument there.”
In Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tested positive for the coronavirus — the first person mentioned as a possible Biden running mate to do so — while the Atlanta Journal-Constitution criticized her recent response to protests.
“Atlanta no longer has the luxury of using a hands-off approach that’s allowed some criminals to slyly ply their violent trade amidst peaceful protests,” the newspaper wrote in an editorial. “Mayor Bottoms, we need you to assertively step up and lead.”
On Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts will join Jill Biden for a streamed forum on education policy; on Friday, Duckworth and Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin will host an online event pegged to Biden's economic plan.
Meet a PAC
What it is: Fight Corporate Monopolies, a new 501(c) 4.
Who runs it: Former Obama Treasury Department aide Sarah Miller, former CPFB staffer and congressional candidate Morgan Harper, and, as an adviser, former Bernie Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir.
What it's doing: Running an ad against Rep. Richard Neal in Massachusetts's 1st Congressional District, where he faces a September primary challenge from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. In that ad, “Follow the Money,” the group attacks Neal for “protecting Blackstone's profits” by stopping legislation that would have prevented surprise medical billing. “Now, Blackstone is Richie Neal's top contributor, and one of Donald Trump's, too,” a narrator says in the ad.
What it wants: To beat Neal, while also proving a concept: that when voters are informed of how donations can change policy, they'll get motivated to vote and toss out the recipient of those donations. “Springfield has a lot of lower-working-class people,” Shakir said, referring to the district's biggest city. “If you can unlock an argument of how to get those people engaged and voting in this issue, I think it unlocks a hell of a lot of races.”
… four days until the Louisiana primary
… seven days until runoffs in Alabama and Texas
… 41 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 49 days until the Republican National Convention
… 59 days until some absentee ballots start going out
… 119 days until the general election