Biden cen­ters cam­paign where he started: Trump’s char­ac­ter

The Saline Courier - - NEWS -

BURLINGTON, Iowa —

Joe Biden’s cam­paign is not an­chored in a big pol­icy idea like Bernie San­ders’ Medi­care for All. He is not propos­ing trans­for­ma­tive change like El­iz­a­beth War­ren. In­stead, Biden’s call to vot­ers is a more vis­ceral one, casting the 2020 race as a test of the coun­try’s char­ac­ter.

The re­cent back-to-back mass killings in Texas and

Ohio have, for now, al­lowed Biden to re-cen­ter his cam­paign on those ideas. Af­ter spend­ing the past three months largely on de­fense over a long pol­icy record that draws fire from Demo­cratic Party’s most pro­gres­sive cor­ners, Biden re­asserted him­self this week with a blis­ter­ing take­down of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s racist lan­guage and the ways in which some of the Repub­li­can pres­i­dent’s anti-im­mi­grant out­bursts could have in­spired one of the shoot­ings.

“I will not let this man be re­elected pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica,” Biden said this week in Iowa, where he weaved be­tween hushed dis­ap­point­ment and in­cred­u­lous fury over a pres­i­dent who of­fers “no moral lead­er­ship.”

Biden has hardly been alone among Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in as­sail­ing Trump af­ter the lat­est killings. The shoot­ing suspect in El Paso has been linked to a racist screed that echoed many of the pres­i­dent’s own tirades about an im­mi­grant “in­va­sion,” prompt­ing at least two of Biden’s rivals to brand Trump a “white su­prem­a­cist.”

Yet only Biden has made ques­tions of char­ac­ter — that of Trump and the na­tion — the cen­ter­piece of his White House bid. He says it was Trump’s equiv­o­cat­ing re­sponse to the 2017 racial clash in Char­lottesvill­e, Vir­ginia, that prompted him to run and he has re­peat­edly de­clared the elec­tion a bat­tle “for the soul of the na­tion.”

It’s a more com­fort­able plat­form for Biden, an el­der states­man in the party who con­sis­tently polls high on per­sonal at­tributes, than run­ning as an ide­o­logue or agent of change. The 76-year-old would be the old­est new pres­i­dent in his­tory — 78 upon in­au­gu­ra­tion. And his po­si­tions on a range of is­sues, in­clud­ing abortion ac­cess and crim­i­nal jus­tice, have evolved along with his party over the past four decades, sub­ject­ing him to bruis­ing crit­i­cism from pro­gres­sives.

Biden’s ad­vis­ers con­tend that those past pol­icy po­si­tions will mat­ter less to most vot­ers, both in the Demo­cratic pri­mary and the gen­eral elec­tion, than their as­sess­ments of Trump’s moral fit­ness for the job.

In Iowa this week, Biden tore into what he sees as Trump’s short­com­ings on that front.

“The words of a pres­i­dent mat­ter,” he said in a Wed­nes­day speech. “They can ap­peal to the bet­ter an­gels of our na­ture. But they can also un­leash the deep­est, dark­est forces in this na­tion.”

At the Iowa State Fair a day later, Biden said, “Ev­ery­thing the pres­i­dent’s said and done encourages white su­prem­a­cists.”

His words res­onated with Staci Beekhuizen, a teacher in Lee County, Iowa, who called Biden’s Wed­nes­day ad­dress “pres­i­den­tial.”

“The vice pres­i­dent showed us ex­actly what we need right now,” she said.

Tom Harter, who at­tended the Burlington, Iowa, speech with his 90-year-old mother, said there was some­thing “calm­ing” about Biden’s take­down of Trump.

“He has a stature about him,” Harter said.

Trump also took no­tice of Biden’s speech, calling it bor­ing. The pres­i­dent later lashed out at his Demo­cratic Party crit­ics, ac­cus­ing them of bring­ing racism into the na­tional dis­course.

Other can­di­dates joined Biden this week in ham­mer­ing Trump, who has bris­tled at any sug­ges­tion that his harsh, anti-im­mi­grant rhetoric con­trib­uted to the shoot­ing in El Paso. Dur­ing vis­its Wed­nes­day to El Paso and Day­ton, Ohio, Trump re­peat­edly tan­gled with his ad­ver­saries, in­clud­ing pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and for­mer Rep. Beto O’rourke, an El Paso na­tive.

O’rourke and Sen. Cory Booker de­liv­ered high pro­file re­marks fol­low­ing the shoot­ing this week, with Booker choos­ing as his venue the Emanuel AME Church in Charles­ton, South Carolina, where a white su­prem­a­cist in 2015 killed nine black cit­i­zens as they prayed. Both can­di­dates trail Biden and sev­eral oth­ers in the 2020 Demo­cratic field.

But even as Biden’s top competitor­s shred Trump, they have built their cen­tral cam­paign pitches around some­thing else.

San­ders and War­ren, in par­tic­u­lar, are eco­nomic pop­ulists of the left. Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris re­leased her first paid ad this week cen­tered mostly on vot­ers’ eco­nomic con­cerns.

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