Biden’s latest campaign strategy: Get under Trump’s skin

March 29, 2024

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As President Joe Biden works to defeat Donald Trump, he’s increasingly focused on another goal he thinks will help him achieve that: getting under his skin. 

In recent weeks, both in private and public settings, Biden has ramped up personal, biting and often sarcastic broadsides against his Republican opponent, targeting his financial challenges, his campaign tempo and even his weight. 

It’s a strategy largely driven by Biden himself, according to multiple aides and advisers familiar with the approach. 

“This is him, and we’re following his lead,” one Biden aide said. “There’s just something about Joe Biden that gets under Donald Trump’s skin more than anybody, and I think Joe Biden knows that.”

At a star-studded fundraiser in New York City on Thursday evening that brought in $26 million for his campaign, Biden was asked what was at stake in the 2024 election. After giving an answer criticizing Trump’s positions broadly, he concluded: “All the things he’s doing are so old … a little old and out of shape.” 

Biden also took a jab at the former president’s physical stamina while telling a story recounting a brief conversation they had about golf at the White House shortly after Trump’s election.

“I told him this once before when he came into the Oval before he was sworn in. I said, ‘I’ll give you three strokes, but you carry your own bag,’” Biden said to laughs. 

The president came up with those jokes on his own, according to two aides and a senior adviser, who pointed out that Biden is often using similar quips in internal staff meetings. 

“He comes up with these off the cuff,” one of the aides said. 

Earlier this month, the president also directly addressed Trump’s legal woes and financial issues, saying “the other day a defeated man” who was “crushed by debt” had approached him. 

“I had to say, ‘I’m sorry Donald, I can’t help you,’” Biden told a group of donors in Houston last week.  

His campaign has even labeled Trump as “Broke Don.” 

Biden’s team thinks those kinds of comments and jokes may resonate with voters for two reasons: because it’s “rooted,” one aide said, in who Biden is at his core and because it wouldn’t work as well if it didn’t have some authenticity to it. 

While contrasting their policy positions is important to the president, an adviser said Biden is “totally the driver” of presenting a “stark” character difference with Trump as well.  

The most natural place to do that is on the campaign trail, aides say, and it has already been on clear display in recent weeks. 

Biden has regularly been referring to Trump as a “loser,” underscoring the fact that the lost the 2020 election in both private fundraisers and in on-camera remarks at campaign field office openings. 

Aides and advisers only expect this to continue in the coming months as the campaign enters full general election mode. 

“He has Donald Trump read like a book, and it’s fun to watch,” a Biden aide said. 

Asked for a response to the president’s quips, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung criticized Biden for hosting a fundraiser with former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton while Trump attended the wake Thursday for slain New York police officer Jonathan Diller.

“President Trump honored the life and legacy of Officer Diller and paid respects to his family, friends, and the NYPD for their terrible loss,” Cheung said in a statement. “Meanwhile, the Three Stooges —Biden, Obama, and Clinton — were at a glitzy fundraiser in the city with their elitist, out-of-touch celebrity benefactors.”

In smaller meetings with senior staff, Biden will make jokes about Trump that then get launched into larger digital content that the re-election effort uses on various social media platforms.  

The most notable manifestation of that has been leaning into the “Dark Brandon” meme, which features a photo of Biden with red lasers shooting out of his eyes. 

Biden himself has fully embraced the image, which originated in right-wing circles, in an attempt to mock the conspiracy theories that bore it. 

At the end of the Radio City Music Hall event with Obama and Clinton on Thursday, the trio did their best impressions of Biden by donning his infamous aviator sunglasses. 

Before leaving the stage, Biden quipped: “By the way, Dark Brandon is real.”  

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