President Biden is stepping up his attacks on former President Trump, hitting him over his Oval Office record at a time when the two increasingly appear headed toward a White House rematch next fall.
Biden has not named Trump while taking jabs at the last president, but the criticisms have been direct, personal and impossible to miss.
In a Labor Day speech in Philadelphia that had some of the trappings of a campaign event, Biden said “the last guy” to hold his office had “looked at the world from Park Avenue” and was “shipping jobs to China.”
“The last guy” was also putting pensions at risk and left office with fewer jobs than when he’d arrived, Biden said.
On Friday, Biden also took shots at Trump, saying that “America was losing jobs” under his administration and that Trump was “one of only two presidents in history who entered his presidency and left with fewer jobs than when he entered.”
Combined, the two speeches show that Trump is on Biden’s mind and that he wants to build the argument that the economy is stronger, not weaker, under his leadership than Trump’s.
The economy has been a weak issue for Biden, and his use of Bidenomics to bolster American views of his stewardship has not really shown signs of taking off thus far.
The RealClearPolitics polling average shows just 38 percent of those surveyed approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, compared with 58.4 percent who disapprove.
Biden won 43 percent approval but 54 percent disapproval for his handling of the economy in an Economist/YouGov poll conducted from Aug. 26-29, and a 37 percent approval rating compared with a 59 percent disapproval rating in a Wall Street Journal survey taken in late August.
Trump, if he goes on to become the GOP presidential nominee, is certain to make the case that the economy was stronger during his presidency than Biden’s. And right now, it looks like a strong issue for the Republican.
Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy for the Democratic think tank Third Way, said that Biden has a positive economic story to tell and time to improve those numbers.
“If you look at past successful presidential reelections like Reagan, Clinton and Obama, they were all behind on Labor Day the preceding election year, and all used the next six months to change the narrative and build a lead they never gave up. That is the script that Biden is playing,” he said.
“And he has the advantage of knowing who the most likely nominee will be,” Kessler added.
The attacks on Trump show that Biden wants to plant the seeds that Trump’s stewardship of the economy was not strong.
Biden has leaned into his infrastructure bill, which passed with Republican support and became law, in contrast to Trump efforts that went nowhere.
“Guess what? The great real estate builder — the last guy here — he didn’t build a damn thing,” Biden said Monday.
Trump is way ahead in GOP primary polls, suggesting the Republican race to pick a challenger to Biden might be over before it begins.
Trump has an average 38.6 percentage point lead in the RealClearPolitics nationwide GOP primary average, with a more narrow 26 percent lead in the RealClearPolitics average for Iowa.
A general election contest between Biden and Trump is expected to be close.
Each won 46 percent support in a recent poll from The Wall Street Journal. The poll found that when third-party candidates are included, Trump held a 1 percent edge on Biden.
Making his case on the economy is crucial for Biden, given the general importance of the issue in any presidential election.
He also appears to be following a script of his former boss in setting out the economic contrast early.
Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons compared Biden’s attacks on Trump to the way that former President Obama’s reelection campaign bashed then-candidate Mitt Romney before he was officially the GOP presidential nominee in 2012.
“It wasn’t quite this early, but the Obama people leaned into defining Mitt Romney pretty early in 2012, and by the time Romney was free to respond, the die had already been cast,” Simmons said. “So, it’s smart to define your opponent as early as possible, because the longer you make the case, the deeper voters’ impressions become.”
The Trump campaign hit back on Biden’s criticism Monday, arguing that Trump passed “record-setting tax relief for the middle class” and “produced a booming economic recovery.”
“Crooked Joe Biden is the destroyer of American jobs and continues to fuel runaway inflation with reckless, big government spending,” said Trump spokesman Steven Cheung.
Kevin Munoz, a spokesman for Biden’s reelection campaign, said it wants to have a debate over Biden’s and Trump’s jobs records.
“Donald Trump is the only president since Herbert Hoover to leave office with less net jobs. His empty promises to bring back manufacturing and good jobs were only realized in the United States when President Biden took office. It’s a direct contrast voters know, and a debate we are happy to have,” Munoz said.
Trump’s presidency ended amid the coronavirus pandemic, which wreaked havoc on the economy in 2020.
The White House has also recently stepped up attacks on Republicans in general, with aides bashing Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other lawmakers on impeachment inquiries and government shutdown threats.
They have consistently brought up Trump ally Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), seeking to tie her to Trump and other Republicans as they argue against giving the GOP more governing power.
The one area the White House doesn’t get into are the indictments of Trump. Doing so could play into GOP arguments that the Department of Justice has been weaponized against Trump and Republicans.
That could change, however, if Trump is convicted before the election.
“Trump’s legal arguments are their own disaster; there’s no reason for President Biden to wade into that mess,” Simmons said. “If you’re for Trump, you don’t care. The other 60 percent of Americans I think will have a hard time accepting a presidential candidate with four felony indictments.”