Taza Khabre

Inside Biden’s Anti-Trump Plan (And Where Taylor Swift Fits In)

“It’s a game, the beginning of the general election,” said Rep. Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire, president of the Coalition of New Democrats, a group of 97 centrist Democrats. “We have to win this.”

In a race without historical parallel — a contest between two presidents, one of whom faces 91 criminal charges — Mr. Biden is making an unusual gamble, betting that Mr. Trump remains such an animating force in American life that the nation’s current leader can swing the 2024 election on a referendum not about himself but about his predecessor.

Reviving a version of the argument that worked for them in 2020, Mr. Biden’s team and his key allies plan to portray Mr. Trump as a mortal threat to American government and civil society, and argue that fears of another turbulent Trump administration will outweigh concerns about Mr. Biden’s age and vitality. Polls have shown Mr. Biden trailing Trump in a head-to-head race, and many Democratic voters are reluctant to back him again.

The president’s aides plan to combine a direct attack on Mr. Trump with a heavy focus on abortion rights, casting the issue as a symbol of larger conservative efforts to curtail personal liberties.

They believe that the more the public sees and hears Mr. Trump, the less people will be inclined to vote for him and the more the Biden campaign will be able to use his words on issues like abortion and health care against him.

Biden aides argue that voters remember the events of Jan. 6, 2021, too well, making the day a touchstone similar to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They think an anti-Trump message about democracy can persuade Democratic voters to rally behind Mr. Biden and win over independents who supported Mr. Trump in 2020 but disapprove of his behavior since then.

The January 6 attack on the Biden campaign hangs in another way: unlike in 2020, the president and his team believe that the end of the election will not be in November but on January 6, 2025, when Congress will count the Electoral College vote.

Mr. Biden’s team is building a legal strike force in battleground states to prepare for a range of challenges — including issues of basic voting rights, but extending to certification of elections under the Election Counting Reform Act, a 2022 federal law intended to prevented a repeat attempt by Mr. Trump to overturn the 2020 election.

Democrats have successfully delivered a Trump-centric message even when the former president has been out of office, including the 2022 midterm elections and more than two dozen elections last year. Now that he looks set to return to the presidential ticket — and as he continues to shape the direction of Republican politics — top Biden allies see an opportunity to draw a stark contrast.

“Once again,” said Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, “there is a binary choice: democracy, freedom versus extremism and chaos. Real problems at the kitchen table that affect people or just nonsense they make up.”

Still, the election will not be about Mr. Trump in a vacuum.

Many Democrats remain concerned that focusing their attention on him will succeed in galvanizing voters who are already pessimistic about Mr. Biden. Polls show that some of the black, Hispanic, youth and suburban voters who carried him to victory in 2020 have since turned against him, in part because of doubts about his age, economic status and support for Israel.

Campaign aides and top officials largely dismiss those concerns, believing that attitudes about the economy will at least change as it shows more signs of improvement.

In order to gather the growing number of voters who do not consume news through traditional media, the campaign tries to reach them on social networks, influencer videos and even those with a smaller number of followers.

While in North Carolina this month, Mr. Biden visited for an hour at the home of a supporter who had her student loans canceled through the federal program. The man’s son later posted a video of Mr. Biden visit TikTokthat drew millions of views — a template for how the campaign hopes to reach voters in new ways.

The campaign started talks with celebrities and social media stars on promoting Mr. Biden on Instagram and TikTok. When Mr. Biden went on a fund-raising drive through Southern California in December, the campaign set aside time to meet with influencers to direct them to post pro-Biden content. There are also plans, the first was published on Sunday until NBC Newsto hold a fundraiser with two former Democratic presidents: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

The biggest and most influential target of support is Ms. Swift, 34, a pop sensation and NFL enthusiast who can attract millions of fans with a post on Instagram or on the sidelines mid-concert. She endorsed Mr. Biden in 2020, and last year just one of her Instagram posts led to 35,000 new voter registrations. Ms. Swift’s fundraising appeals could be worth millions of dollars to Mr. Biden.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, a top Biden surrogate, only pleaded with Ms. Swift to get more involved in Mr. Biden’s campaign when he spoke to the press after the Republican primary debate in September.

“Taylor Swift is tall and unique,” ​​he said. “What she’s been able to accomplish just in activating young people to consider that they have a voice and that they should have a choice in the next election, I think is extremely powerful.”

The chatter around Ms. Swift and the potential to achieve her 279 million followers on Instagram it reached such intensity that Biden’s team urged candidates in a social media job ad not to describe their strategy to Taylor Swift — the campaign already had enough suggestions. One idea that has been tossed around, somewhat in jest: sending the president to stop Tour of Mrs. Swift’s Eras.

Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a key Biden ally, said Democrats must make an affirmative case for the president, reminding voters that tangible changes in their lives — a cap on insulin costs, a road or bridge repaired for the first time — can be tied to achievements of the administration.

In the 2020 campaign, Mr. Clyburn said, “people voted no Trump. Our job this time is to convince people to vote for Biden.”

“We just can’t rely on this anti-Trump stuff because the Trump supporters are going to come out big, because they’re emotionally attached to Trump,” he continued. “We have to get our voters emotionally attached to Biden.”

And Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan who is running for Senate, said candidates need to show they understand the concerns of voters in their pockets.

“The lesson of the last seven years for us in Michigan after Trump’s victory was that a Democrat with anger is fine — a Democrat with a plan is powerful,” Ms. Slotkin said. “You have to understand the mood of the people on the ground.”

Other Biden supporters argue that voters want to hear not just about his record, but what he would do if re-elected.

Representative Chris Pappas, Democrat of New Hampshire, called on the campaign to lay out a “forward-looking vision” for how Mr. Biden would address concerns about housing affordability, child care costs and immigration.

“It can’t just be about re-transmitting the past. We can’t just talk about the laws we adopted,” he said. “It has to be about responding to immediate concerns that people have in their daily lives.”

To assuage those Democratic concerns, Mr. Biden sent Jennifer O’Malley Dillon and Mike Donilon, two top White House aides, to Wilmington, Del., to devote their full attention to the campaign. For months, donors and other allies have expressed frustration with an arrangement in which top decision-makers in Mr. Biden’s campaign remained in their White House roles while top officials in Wilmington were left to carry out orders.

The campaign has also responded to complaints about the slow pace of recruitment by bringing in a number of new staff members. It now has more than 100 staff members, with teams on the ground in six states and South Carolina, which will hold its first recognized Democratic primary on Saturday.

However, many new hires are working in jobs roughly similar to what they did in their state parties.

In Wisconsin, the six new members of the Biden campaign staff all came from the Democratic Party, and they all still work in the same offices and conference rooms. The spokesman for the super PAC behind the effort to register Mr. Biden on New Hampshire’s Democratic primary ballot will be Mr. Biden’s state campaign manager.

Ms. O’Malley Dillon, who managed Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign, is widely seen as a stabilizing force and will arrive in Wilmington with decision-making authority that was not given to campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez.

Kirk Wagar, a Democratic donor who served as ambassador to Singapore during the Obama administration, said, “To have 100 percent of Jen O’Malley’s mindset on the campaign trail can be nothing but a great thing.”

Shane Goldmacher contributed to the reporting.

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