By Amie Parnes
Joe Biden is taking on President Trump over the economy.
The former vice president’s campaign believes he has an opening with voters on an issue that has been a strength of Trump’s given the economic harm caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has locked down businesses and led to skyrocketing unemployment.
They plan to argue that Trump handled the pandemic poorly, is mishandling the economy, and that their candidate is in a the better leader to shepherd the country to a recovery.
“No one thinks the economy is in a good place right now,” said one Democratic strategist who supports Biden. “Trump got us here. And Biden can make the case that he’s the one who can lead us out of here.”
Allies say the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee will lean on his record in 2009, when he was a part of the Obama administration handling the recovery from the last big recession.
The decade since that recession included tremendous growth, though the Obama administration also came under heavy criticism from the right and the left for its handling of the issue, raising questions over how effectively the experience can be used to buttress Biden.
Biden signaled his focus on the economy with an interview Friday on the business channel CNBC.
His message was focused on the idea that the government’s first job must be handling the outbreak of COVID-19.
“The way to fix the economy is to get the public health response correct,” he said.
He also took on Amazon, said he would not raise taxes on households earning $400,000 annually, and sought to take on Trump.
“His slowness is costing lives and costing jobs and costing our ability to rebound,” Biden said.
Kenneth Baer, who served as a senior adviser in the Obama White House’s Office of Management and Budget, said it’s “very important” for Biden to center his campaign on the economy.
“The real challenge will be to keep making the case that Trump spent his years in office helping himself and the wealthy, and when the pandemic hit, Trump tanked the economy in absolute terms,” Baer said.
The economy was long seen as a Trump strength, and Baer warned Democrats that an economic rebound could bolster the president again unless Biden is an effective messenger.
“Come the fall, the economy will be adding jobs and growing at potentially record rates, and Trump will argue that in relative terms, he’s winning even though the economy will still be in dire straits. That is, he will say, ‘Look, we cut unemployment in half.’ We need to say, ‘Yes, but it’s still at 15 percent,'” Baer said.
A Fox News poll out on Thursday showed Trump has a narrow three-point lead over Biden when those surveyed were asked about the economy. At the same time, the survey showed that 78 percent said the economy was in bad shape.
Republicans say it wouldn’t be a wise decision to take on Trump on the economy.
“I think it’s risky for Biden to make the economy central to his campaign,” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “The economy will bounce back in [the third quarter] and by then many people may believe the American comeback is on the right course.”
William Galston, a senior fellow of governance studies who served as a domestic policy adviser in Bill Clinton’s White House, also questioned the wisdom of centering attacks on Trump on the economy.
“In my judgment, Biden would be ill-advised to attack Trump’s economic performance during his three years in office,” Galston said. “There are lots of negative things one could say, but the people have made up their minds: Trump did better on the economy than in any other area, and it worked pretty well. Even now, they continue to give him high marks.”
Galston said Biden should focus on leadership, arguing he should work to contrast himself with Trump without focusing on the economic record.
“He should argue that the economy won’t return to full health unless and until Americans have good reason to believe that it’s safe to go back to work and to enter shops, restaurants, and theaters,” Galston said. “And then he should pose a killer question: based on what you’ve seen since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, do you think President Trump is the right person to lead us out of this mess?”
Biden allies maintain they can effectively make the case against Trump by using the pandemic to show that even the economy is in bad hands under Trump.
“I think he continues to make the case that had he been in charge he would have taken the virus seriously from the start, preventing the confusion and disjointed response we’ve seen from Trump leading to the economic crisis we are in now,” said one ally who is in touch with Biden and his team.
Baer said now that voters have seen what Trump can do, they may prefer an alternative.
“We have seen four years of having a self-described businessman in the Oval Office, and I think a majority of voters will welcome a candidate, like Joe Biden, who actually knows how to run government competently and ethically,” he said.