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Biden's re-election campaign is trying even harder to draw contrast with Trump

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Biden's reelection campaign is ramping up efforts to draw a contrast to former President Trump. Trump is the prohibitive frontrunner in the race to be the Republican nominee. Polls show there is malaise among voters about the idea of a 2020 rematch that no one seems to want. And as NPR's senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports, Biden's team is working to break through it.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when not a lot of people were paying attention, former President Trump posted on his social media site that Republicans should never give up on repealing and replacing Obamacare. It would be easy for something like this to get lost amongst the torrent of memes and complaints about prosecutors and judges Trump posts at all hours, but Biden and his team weren't about to let that happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And my predecessor has once again - God love him - called for cuts that could rip away health insurance for tens of millions of Americans.

KEITH: That was Monday at the White House, a newsy comment tossed into an unrelated speech. By Tuesday morning, the Biden campaign put together a press call with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: Thank you to the Biden-Harris campaign for organizing this call to discuss the dire threat to the health and well-being of America's families posed by Donald Trump.

KEITH: That night, perhaps seeing all the coverage, Trump had more to say, posting, among other things, quote, "Obamacare sucks." Republicans have pretty much stopped talking about repealing the Affordable Care Act because it's gotten popular, and going after it was seen as a political loser. So, of course, the Biden campaign seized on it. Michael Tyler, the communications director for the campaign, says Americans need to know what Trump is promising to do in a second term.

MICHAEL TYLER: Talking about rounding up Latinos, banning Muslims, rooting out his political enemies like vermin, echoing the rhetoric that we've seen from folks like Hitler and Mussolini in the past. So when he does that, we are going to raise the stakes for folks.

KEITH: As the campaign sees it, the former president's extreme ideas are barely breaking through with voters thanks to a combination of Trump fatigue and a fractured media environment. So they are working to amplify Trump's own words. This is a pretty dramatic shift from a couple of years ago, when Biden world treated Trump like Voldemort, the one who must not be named. Now even Biden himself is regularly not only naming him but using stark language about the dangers of a second Trump term.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Let there be no question. Donald Trump and his MAGA Republicans are determined to destroy American democracy.

KEITH: That was Biden at a fundraiser in New York City in audio posted online. Trying to make a reelection campaign about a choice is a strategy as old as time, and it's an absolute necessity for Biden, says pollster Christine Matthews.

CHRISTINE MATTHEWS: Everyone can see the latest polls, so if it is a referendum in 2024 on Joe Biden, he will lose.

KEITH: Matthews runs Bellwether Research and does polling for moderate Republicans. She says a lot of people tuned out after Biden was inaugurated and have forgotten the chaos and instability that were Trump's trademarks.

MATTHEWS: Right now the hazy veil of memory is benefiting Trump. People are looking back, and it's a little fuzzy, but it seems like, gosh, things weren't as expensive.

KEITH: Voters say they're worried about inflation, the state of the world and the president's age. And all of that is weighing down Biden's approval. But that's also where a contrast can help. Ben Wikler is chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. He says party volunteers recently went out knocking on the doors of people who are not normally Democratic voters, asking them what they care about and how they feel about Trump winning.

BEN WIKLER: However upset people are with whatever is bothering them at this moment, there are so many people who do not want that guy to get back into the White House.

KEITH: And those are the people Biden needs to win. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF NICOLE WRAY SONG, "HOLD ON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.