Democrats cheer Biden decision to take on Trump in early debate

Democrats demoralized by President Biden’s poll numbers cheered his aggressive move Wednesday to push for an early debate against former President Trump, saying it’s an effective way to shake up a race that needs shaking.

They say they were pleased to see Biden take on Trump, particularly in light of a string of polls showing him trailing Trump in key swing states.

The two presidents on Wednesday agreed to debate twice, in June — the earliest debate during a general election — and September, marking the first time they will meet since their face-off during the 2020 race.

“It’s a good way to show his aggressiveness and kick off the summer with a reminder to most normal people who haven’t tuned into the election yet and everything they hate about Trump and why Biden is the choice to beat him,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale.

Sources close to the Biden campaign say the debate decision was a strategic move to ensure voters see the difference between the two candidates for themselves before they start to make their decisions.

The willingness to debate Trump, those close to the campaign said, showed Biden is taking a combative approach to give a much-needed boost to a campaign that has struggled to lure voters to its column.

Another Democratic strategist who has been an aide on recent presidential campaigns said the narrative surrounding Biden did not paint the president in the best light, and the move by the president is a good way to change the storyline.

“It puts the president and his team on the offensive,” the strategist said. “It’s a good way to control the narrative but it’s also a good way to rev up his own people. He is clearly seeing that he has not been able to bring Dem constituencies home yet and this is a good way to do that.”

A New York Times/Siena College/Philadelphia Inquirer poll earlier this week showed Trump ahead among registered voters in head-to-head match-ups in the battleground states of Michigan, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Other numbers also have been poor for Biden. The strategist pointed to recent polls that show Biden is losing support across Democratic voting blocs, including Black, Hispanic and young voters.

“They’re not just behind, they’re behind with Democrats,” the strategist said. “And they’re aware of this.”

In a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates on Wednesday, Biden campaign chair Jen O’Malley Dillon told those involved that Biden would not be participating in the usual three general election debates in September and October, which are sponsored by the commission.

O’Malley Dillon said Biden instead would take part in debates hosted and organized by news organizations.

Basil Smikle, the Democratic strategist who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, also said it was a bold move for Biden.

“The move is seen as unconventional for Biden but it’s a good tactic for him, especially since this is an unconventional campaign,” Smikle said.

Details of the debates were still being ironed out, and aides to both sides say they likely will continue to discuss stipulations between the campaigns and with the television networks — CNN and ABC News.

But Biden’s campaign put forward a list of requests on Wednesday, including the desire to have the debate be just Trump and Biden with a moderator. They do not want Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or other third-party candidates involved. They also do not want in-person audiences, which the former president tends to prefer.

Throughout the campaign, Democrats have been urging Biden to take on a pugnacious approach with Trump, who has taken to calling Biden “crooked.”

They say it’s the only way they can go toe-to-toe with the former president, who doesn’t like to play by conventional rules. They have wanted him to bluntly remind voters of the rash of criminal charges against Trump, but until recently, Biden has all but avoided the topic.

But in recent weeks — including in the video Wednesday — Biden has jabbed Trump and his legal woes, pleasing Democrats.

A fired-up Biden also goaded Trump during the State of the Union to Congress earlier this year, accusing Trump of seeking to overturn his victory in 2020.

“My predecessor and some of you here seek to bury the truth about Jan. 6. I will not do that,” he said, underscoring a key message of protecting democracy during his 2024 reelection bid. “You can’t love your country only when you win.”

Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said during these debates, Biden can use the spotlight to showcase his strengths.

“People underestimate Joe Biden’s ability to perform and particularly during these big events he does really well,” Simmons said. “People forget that.”

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