What Biden is doing to survive as he faces calls to drop out of the race

Good evening. Tonight, we’re looking at President Biden’s strategy to stabilize his candidacy. And I’m covering a new ad campaign by Republicans who want to defeat Trump.


A defiant President Biden sent a simple message Monday to his critics who say he should drop out of the presidential race: Go for it.

“Anybody who thinks I shouldn’t run, run against me. Announce your candidacy for president, challenge me at the convention,” Biden said during a call to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” all but daring Democrats who have complained about his electability since his disastrous debate performance to stand up and do something about it.

Biden has been roundly criticized not only for his faltering debate performance but also for taking too long to acknowledge and quell the storm of doubts about his fitness to campaign and serve another four years. He is now deploying a more aggressive strategy to try to quell speculation that he is being sidelined as a Democratic presidential contender.

Biden campaigned in North Carolina the day after his debate with Donald Trump, but it wasn’t until Friday, eight days after the debate, that he answered questions about it in a major television interview. He held campaign events in two key states over the holiday weekend.

“Even the president recognizes that there has been too much distance between the debate and the protest,” Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, a Democrat, said of the North Carolina shutdown. “He understands that to be successful, we’re going to have to do that and more.”

It’s unclear whether that will be enough to save his candidacy, especially as new revelations, such as the frequency of White House visits by a Parkinson’s specialist, bring to light questions about the 81-year-old president’s health. But 11 days after the debate, Biden’s strategy is starting to take shape.

Here are four key items that appear to be in Biden’s survival kit.

In recent months, time hasn’t exactly been on Biden’s side. But Doug Sosnik, a Democratic strategist who worked in Bill Clinton’s White House for six years, has learned one thing as he navigates the fallout from the investigations and scandals that have marred that presidency: Every day you’re alive — politically speaking — is a day you’re not dead.

“Biden is where we were then today,” Sosnik said. “Biden’s strategy, right now, is to stay alive and buy time.”

Perhaps that’s why Biden and his team continue to set goals that won’t be achieved for days. Last week, he told an ally that he knew the next few days would be crucial, which may have bought him a long weekend to give the interview and campaign. This week, he’s hosting NATO members in Washington and has promised a news conference — but not before Thursday. And next week is the Republican National Convention, which would hardly be a good time for Democrats to announce their candidate’s withdrawal.

Time is now Biden’s best friend. Every day that Biden doesn’t suffer a major wave of public defections is one day closer to the Democratic National Convention and the election itself — and one day less for Democrats to offer an alternative to his candidacy.

“Right now,” Sosnik said, “buying time is the best option if you’re the Biden White House.”

A half-dozen leading House Democrats have said it’s time for Biden to step aside. A White House adviser doesn’t want him to run again. Some governors were dismayed after a private call they had with the president last week.

It’s not an ideal situation for the outgoing president. But all three examples are happening either in private or anonymously, making it much easier for his team to dismiss them.

So far, six rank-and-file Democrats in the House of Representatives have publicly called on Biden to drop out of the race. But the president benefits from a dynamic — one he helped create as the party’s de facto leader — in which no leading Democrat wants to be the first to publicly show disloyalty.

“There are a lot of people who would like him to step down, but I think for a number of reasons they don’t want to be the first to say it,” Sosnik said.

That has allowed Biden to portray opposition to his candidacy as the preserve of “elites,” as he did on MSNBC Monday, even though nearly three-quarters of voters think he is too old to be effective.

Biden spent the weekend campaigning in Wisconsin and Philadelphia, including at a black church where he was able to speak directly to the base that propelled him to the White House in 2020: black voters.

His allies have also encouraged the way black lawmakers in Congress have rallied to his cause, my colleague Robert Jimison reports.

Younger black lawmakers have remained largely silent, Robert noted, while the top black Democrat in Congress, Hakeem Jeffries, has made no move to calm the feelings of Democratic lawmakers who want to see Biden replaced.

But Biden’s allies are nonetheless pressuring their party to close ranks and stop discussing alternatives.

“The president is a candidate and he’s earned it,” Moore said. “And as long as the president says he’s a candidate and he’s staying in the race, I don’t think there’s any point in having any further discussion.”

Since the debate, Democrats have begged Biden to prove he can handle the demands of campaigning by speaking extemporaneously and giving interviews.

But even as he stepped up his campaign schedule over the weekend and sat down for Friday’s television interview, he remained cautious in how he presented himself.

Biden spoke at the church on Sunday using notes and chose a social venue — “Morning Joe” — for his visit Monday morning. Rather than heading directly to the Capitol to present his views to lawmakers in person, he sent them a letter.

That hasn’t stopped Democrats like Sen. Jon Tester of Montana from pressuring Biden to do even more.

“President Biden must prove to the American people – including me – that he is up to the task for four more years,” he said Monday.

And that doesn’t exactly reflect the kind of fearlessness or endurance Biden is trying to communicate.

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Whether the Democratic candidate is Biden or someone else, Sarah Longwell would like that person to beat Trump.

And Longwell, a Republican strategist who is executive director of the group Republican Voters Against Trump, believes the best messengers are former Trump voters themselves.

Longwell told me Monday that the group is announcing a $300,000 ad campaign in key states that will air on cable from July 17 to 19 during the Republican National Convention and will feature former Trump voters explaining why they will no longer vote for the former president. They will also install 15 billboards around the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, where the convention will be held.

“Our role is to help voters understand the threat that Donald Trump poses by using credible messengers and making sure people see that threat clearly,” Longwell said.

It’s the first salvo in what Longwell hopes will be a $50 million ad campaign to defeat Trump (the group has raised $25 million so far, she said).

Republicans who dislike Trump represent a small but significant portion of the electorate, and Longwell’s group is working to persuade them that he is too dangerous to return to office.

“We desperately need someone who can effectively prosecute Trump,” Longwell said. “I also see that as my job, and that’s what this campaign is about.”

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