WASHINGTON (TBEN) — A month into his presidency, Joe Biden made it clear that he loathed mentioning the man he had kicked out of the Oval Office, declaring, “I’m tired of talking about Trump.”
“For the next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people,” he told a CNN town hall.
But now Biden eagerly calls and picks the former “former man” in prepared comments and on social media, elevating Donald Trump in a way that Biden and White House aides failed to do during the first 18 months of his tenure.
Speaking virtually with a group of black law enforcement officers last week, Biden accused the former president of stoking a “medieval hell” for police officers fighting off the Jan. 6 rioters, adding that “Donald Trump lacked the courage to act.”
Biden’s Twitter feed echoed those words — a shocking sight for a White House that has tried to erase all references to the former president and, in particular, his name.
And when Biden came out of isolation after a battle with COVID-19, he emphatically noted that he could continue to work from the White House residence while Trump had to be airlifted to the hospital for treatment after his own diagnosis, at a time when vaccines unavailable and the then president took a cavalier approach to mitigation measures.
For some Democrats, Biden’s willingness to engage directly with Trump was overdue.
“It’s like Lord Voldemort, isn’t it? You have to say his name and show that you are not afraid of him,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D.N.Y. “It’s good to see the President mention Donald Trump, as we all should.”
Biden’s increasingly combative stance comes as a torrent of revelations about Trump and his behavior during the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, 2021, and amid growing speculation that the Republican will launch a comeback bid as early as this fall.
Despite Biden’s declining approval ratings, even among members of his own party, he still consolidates the vast majority of Democratic voters behind him when presented as the party’s pick against Trump in a hypothetical 2024 campaign.
Biden’s first major attempt to defeat Trump came on January 6, 2022, when he delivered a speech marking the one-year anniversary of the riots. Biden condemned his predecessor for holding a “dagger to the throat of democracy” by spreading repeatedly refuted lies that Trump failed to lose in 2020.
But even then, Biden refused to name Trump and asked why.
“I didn’t want to make it a contemporary political battle between me and the president,” Biden explained after his remarks at the Capitol. “It goes way beyond that.”
Other Democrats say Biden, who campaigned to unite a country torn by partisanship, was right to turn the spotlight away from Trump at a time when Democrats had regained control of Washington for the first time in a decade and embark on an ambitious agenda and move on to the chaotic Trump years.
sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said he also struggled to focus on the former president once Trump left office.
“I think a lot of us just hoped he would go away and if we stopped talking about him, everyone would stop talking about him,” he said. “But that’s not how it went. He’s running for president and he’s still running the Republican Party, and I don’t think we can pull back anymore.”
Last week, Biden left no doubt that he was willing — perhaps even eagerly — to directly challenge Trump in a way he hadn’t done before.
In pre-recorded remarks to the annual conference of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Biden repeatedly referred to the “defeated” former president who did nothing as law enforcement officers worked for hours to protect the Capitol while lawmakers gathered to certify Biden’s victory. .
“The police were heroes that day. Donald Trump lacked the courage to act,” Biden said in his comments. “The brave women and men in blue across this country must never forget that.”
Biden’s Twitter feeds reinforced those words and promoted his repeated references to Trump. A day later, a tweet noted that the “ex-president” opposes restricting “military-style weapons” that Biden says should be banned.
On Wednesday, Biden’s release from isolation and his celebratory remarks in the Rose Garden gave him another chance to bring up Trump and their differences on a separate issue.
“When my predecessor got COVID, he had to go to Walter Reed Medical Center by helicopter. He was seriously ill. Fortunately, he recovered,” Biden said. “When I got COVID, I was working from the top floor of the White House.” Biden emphasized that the vaccines, home testing and antiviral treatments he enjoyed during his recovery were readily available to the American public.
White House officials believe that these two issues — law and order and management of the pandemic — are among the areas where Biden can contrast the most with the previous administration. Biden himself has made no secret of his hunger to fight Trump again, recently telling an Israeli television station that he “wouldn’t be disappointed” by a potential rematch.
As for the former president, Biden’s tweets and comments have not surfaced in recent conversations between Trump advisers, according to two people familiar with the talks who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversations.
“Joe Biden and the Democrats are destroying America, just as President Trump predicted,” Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said. “From a recession at home to wars abroad, there’s nothing Joe Biden can say that distracts from the suffering he’s inflicted on the American people. His interns should stop writing bland tweets and start writing resignations.”
Biden’s new, more confrontational stance is another way the White House has attempted to create a clearer contrast to Republicans ahead of November’s election as Democrats are battered by the traditional headwinds facing the incumbent party as they struggle. with voters’ dissatisfaction with inflation and the general direction of the country.
Republicans are skeptical that the strategy will work even if Trump flirts with formally announcing a 2024 bid before the fall vote. They also worry that his candidacy could take the focus away from the GOP’s attempt to turn the election into a referendum on Democrats’ stewardship of Washington.
“I get it. If I were blamed for 9.1% inflation and a shaky economy and disorder on the southern border, I’d probably try to change the subject too,” said South Dakota Senator John Thune, the second Republican. in the Senate.
sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said Biden’s largely tempered public personality and his careful tendencies made him attractive to a wide range of voters.
“But I think he comes to the same conclusion as the majority of the country, which is that the former president committed a coup,” Schatz said. “While President Biden tries to avoid inflammatory rhetoric, I think he’s found there’s no other way to say it.”
The Bharat Express News writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.