The Trump team isn’t completely backing down. The reelection effort has gone after Biden on Twitter the past few days, including on his response to the pandemic. And Trump couldn’t resist getting his licks in during a coronavirus news briefing Wednesday. The president noted that he was “beating Sleepy Joe Biden by a lot in Florida” and “in other states.”
But Trump allies say that, for the time being at least, his reelection hopes hinge almost entirely on his ability to manage the crisis. While they acknowledge his initial response was lacking and that the virus poses a mortal threat to his 2020 prospects, they foresee a possible silver lining. If the virus passes and businesses and schools reopen before the election, they say, the president could present himself as the protagonist in an American comeback story.
“If President Trump manages the pandemic well and gets the economy restarted he gets reelected,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally who is currently residing in coronavirus-devastated Italy. “If he fails to do so he probably gets defeated.”
“The Trump team should focus on communicating about the virus and the economy,” Gingrich added, before noting that there would be “plenty of time for Biden later.”
While the crisis has impeded Trump’s ability to damage Biden, it’s also hemmed in the former vice president. Biden has scrapped campaign events and isn’t attending fundraisers, which could hamper his efforts to narrow Trump’s massive fundraising advantage.
The Biden campaign itself isn’t running ads against the president, though two liberal super PACs — Priorities USA and American Bridge — have recently gone on the air against Trump in battleground states.
Biden aides say they are clear-eyed about their financial deficit. But on balance, they’re grateful: Every day that passes without a Trump ad onslaught assault amounts to a reprieve.
“He’s definitely getting a break,” Pete Giangreco, a Democratic strategist who worked on Obama’s presidential campaigns, said of Biden. “Right now, [the Trump campaign] can’t drive any of the contrast [with Biden] because it’s all, ‘What is the president doing about the coronavirus?’”
Indeed, the Trump campaign has been essentially frozen in place by the virus, and they say there are currently no plans in place for a pricey anti-Biden ad campaign.
“Americans want to see their president taking action to protect this nation, which is what President Trump is doing. At the campaign we just amplify that,” said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the reelection effort.
The idea of a post-primary Biden takedown has its roots in the 2012 campaign. With Romney reeling after a costly and divisive primary, the Obama campaign unloaded on him with an ad campaign that painted him as a cold-hearted ex-venture capitalist who slashed working class jobs to make a profit.
In one ad of several ads savaging Romney from the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA, a laid-off factory worker declared that he “made over $100 million” by shutting down his plant.