(Bloomberg) -- Joe Biden cast President Donald Trump as an “existential threat” to the U.S. who has weakened alliances and harmed American workers with needless trade conflicts, delivering a preview of how the former vice president would wage a general election battle.
Biden spoke in southeastern Iowa Tuesday, hours before the president was set to arrive in the state. Trump, meanwhile, launched school-yard taunts against the Democratic front-runner before even leaving Washington, calling him a “dummy” and “weak mentally.”
Trump continued the attack at an event at a Council Bluffs renewable energy facility later Tuesday afternoon, criticizing the former vice president as "sleepy" and having failed farmers during the Obama administration.
"Our politicians let other countries push us around, treat us badly, treat our country with no respect - and you’d see that with Biden," Trump said. "We would never be treated with respect because people don’t respect him, even the people that he’s running against."
Biden is seeking to portray himself as Trump’s inevitable 2020 competitor, even before votes are cast in the state’s first-in-the-nation nominating contest. He told his supporters that Tuesday’s dueling events should serve as a pointed contrast.
“I hope his presence here will be a clarifying event because Iowa farmers have been crushed” by the president’s trade war with China, he said. Trump imposed tariffs in an attempt to appear tough in negotiations, he said, but “it’s easy to be tough when someone else bears the pain."
And both Trump and Biden cast each other as obsessed with a potential 2020 election duel.
"Apparently he had my speech on Air Force One," Biden said. "I guess he’s really fascinated with me."
Trump, for his part, said Biden had mentioned his name "74 times" during his speech earlier in the day.
"That reminds me of Crooked Hillary - she did the same thing," Trump said. "Then when it came time to vote they all said, ’You know - she doesn’t like Trump very much, but what else does she stand for?’ Same thing is happening with Sleepy Joe."
Biden, whose stop in the campaign came nearly six weeks after his only other visit to Iowa, responded by saying Trump’s insults were reminiscent of "Alice in Wonderland." Biden is still leading polls for the Democratic presidential nomination but in a much more precarious position than the last time he was in Iowa.
Trump, though, has been focusing on Biden as a rival. Before departing the White House for a visit to the ethanol plant in southwestern Iowa and a fundraiser, the president unleashed a stream of insults.
“I’d rather run against Biden than anybody,” he said. “I think he’s the weakest mentally, and I like running against people that are weak mentally.”
Trump visited the renewable energy project in Council Bluffs to celebrate a promise he delivered on ethanol. The president also plans to target Biden in remarks at the fundraiser, where Republicans expect to raise about $700,000, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Biden also is drawing ire from many of the other Democratic candidates -- largely indirectly and without using his name -- as they attempt to gain ground on the front-runner.
In one of his few direct responses to the 22 other Democrats running for the party’s nomination, Biden said restoring “basic values” isn’t “a return to the past”’ but is “the only way America is going to have a future.”
Since announcing his campaign, Biden has scarcely campaigned in Iowa, which is an important kick-off point for the nomination and a potential swing state in the presidential election. Trump won the state in 2016 after it went to Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Biden made no apologies for skipping a state party event in Iowa over the weekend that drew 19 other Democratic hopefuls, and he dismissed a dig from candidate Andrew Yang. Biden said he was attending his granddaughter’s graduation. “I have a different value set. It’s family, family, family,” Biden said.
Biden also is looking to rebound from a rough week. His campaign committed unforced errors last week with a quick flip-flop from opposing federal funding for abortion to supporting it and the release of a climate change plan that included unattributed passages, an unwelcome reminder of the plagiarism flap that ended his 1988 presidential campaign.
Biden continues to lead polls in Iowa and nationally by significant margins, but there are also signs of other candidates shoring up their footing. A Des Moines Register poll released over the weekend showed Biden at 24 percent and Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg all clustered closely in the mid-teens.
(Updates with Trump and Biden comments in the third through 11th paragraphs.)
--With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs and Justin Sink.
To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Epstein in Ottumwa, Iowa at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at email@example.com, Max Berley
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