Biden steps up Trump attacks as economic message falls flat

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By Nandita Bose and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden is more aggressively going after his likely 2024 election rival Donald Trump as polls show efforts to campaign on his own economic record are not working.

Ramping up the rhetoric, Biden has in recent weeks said Trump uses "language you heard in Nazi Germany," is singularly responsible for American women losing abortion rights and should not be allowed to become president again because he is "determined to destroy American democracy."

Now Biden's re-election campaign has started a new messaging push dubbed "Trump's America in 2025," highlighting what it says the Republican former president will do in office if elected, as well as his multiple legal troubles.

A Biden campaign spokesman said the plan is to have the campaign regularly attack specific policies proposed by Trump, the clear frontrunner in the Republican Party's primary race to pick its presidential candidate.

"There has been a lot of external pressure to start zeroing in on Trump and sharpen the hits against him," an official with direct knowledge of the plan said, adding pressure intensified after a New York Times/Siena poll this month showed Biden trailing Trump in key battleground states.

Biden is starting to add arguments around Trump and the economy to his speeches on the road. The strategy is being honed at fundraisers and political events, and will ramp up further if and when Trump clinches the Republican nomination, a Biden aide said. Trump leads top Republican challenger Ron DeSantis by nearly 50 points, polls compiled by FiveThirtyEight show.

Some aides and Democratic strategists have long urged Biden to be more aggressive, but say he had resisted that approach. Instead, he tried to focus mostly on his own record in the White House and steered clear of naming the Republican former president, listing his multiple felony counts, or painting a dark picture of America's future if Trump is elected in 2024.

That good-news approach is not working, some officials inside and outside the Biden campaign say. A series of polls have shown Trump leading Biden and that voters have a grim view of the economy, even as the U.S. grows faster than many other major economies this year.

The shift on messaging also comes as a growing number of Democrats, particularly young voters and Muslim-Americans, are angry at Biden's backing of Israel's attacks on Gaza that have killed 12,000 and threaten to abandon him in 2024 unless he backs a ceasefire.

NEGATIVE CAMPAIGNS

Both Biden and Trump have high unfavorable ratings, meaning that both sides are likely to run negative campaigns focused on their rival's weaknesses.

On the campaign trail, Trump has played up plans to "root out" his political enemies, deport millions of migrants, make it easier to fire civil servants, reshape global trade with pricey tariffs and roll back Biden's electric vehicles mandates if he is elected next year.

"Trump winning the nomination is a formality at this point and the hope is that once people are reminded of what Trump's policies and rhetoric are actually like, the polls will start to look a bit better," the official with knowledge of the campaign's plans said.

"Once the race is between Trump and Biden, the contrast will become clearer," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

Biden's campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said the president's policies remain popular and learning more about his record is effective in persuading key voters.

"As we've said time and time again, these efforts are being built for the long run to win a campaign next November -- not to assuage the Beltway voices and polercoaster," the Biden campaign said in a statement responding to concerns about Biden's messaging on the economy and referring to poll swings.

Trump's campaign team says Biden's efforts to attack the former president will not work.

"This is the latest, sad, desperate attempt to revive Joe Biden's failing presidency, but it's not going to work," said Trump senior campaign adviser Jason Miller, when asked about the strategy. "The reality is that it's Joe Biden against democracy. Joe Biden has weaponized our justice system in an unconstitutional manner."

'TERRIBLE' CHOICE OF WORDS

As president, Biden had mostly eschewed direct attacks on Trump and said he wants to heal a deep political divide that separates rural and urban areas.

He has used legislation to pump investments into rural America, partly in an attempt to claw back voters in regions where Democrats have hemorrhaged support in recent years.

Aides say the 81-year-old president is confident he can beat Trump in 2024, just as he did in 2020.

In addition to campaigning on access to protecting abortion, voting rights, and a ban on assault rifles, Biden will ask voters to let him "finish the job" by giving him a second term, and is trying to focus attention on high employment rates and massive infrastructure spending.

Some Democrats and Biden donors have pleaded with the White House to take the emphasis away from Biden's economic record, dubbed "Bidenomics," especially given rising discontent over a surge in food and housing costs over the past year.

"Bidenomics is a terrible choice of words," John Morgan, a Florida attorney and top fundraiser for Biden, also known as a bundler, told Reuters. When 40% of Americans have $400 or less in the bank, "you don't lean into the economy because they don't feel it," Morgan said.

The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Biden and Trump locked in a tight race, with Trump leading Biden 51% to 49% when respondents were asked to pick between the two.

The poll also showed that voters who are inclined to support Biden in 2024 say they are more motivated by stopping Donald Trump from returning to the Oval Office than they are by supporting the incumbent.

"I don't fault the (Biden) campaign at all, for not wanting to get into the mud, the blood and the beer. Because you want to seem presidential," Morgan said, referring to the time it has taken the Biden campaign to step up its attacks on Trump.

"You want to stay out of that as long as possible, but these are different times. I think after we get past Christmas, it's game on. Let's roll," he said.

(This story has been refiled to correct the spelling of 'Ipsos' in paragraph 24)

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Trevor Hunnicutt, additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Editing by Heather Timmons, Kieran Murray and Deepa Babington)