President Donald Trump began the day with a weak salvo at the newest official entrant in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary: former Vice President Joe Biden.
“I think we’d beat him easily,” Trump said on Friday of Biden. In comparison to Biden, the president said, he feels “like a young man. I am a young, vibrant man.”
“I would never say anyone’s too old,” he added. “I know they’re all making me look very young both in terms of age and in terms of energy.”
Trump is 72, and Biden is 76. But few people likely think that the minor age difference will be a major factor if the two face off head-to-head. By Trump’s standards, it was a pretty tepid insult, made even more ludicrous by the absurdity of saying he feels “young.”
And according to Politico, Trump aides, in fact, see Biden as one of his strongest potential opponents:
Trump’s insults were actually masking respect — and genuine concern about Biden’s potential to win, Trump advisers say.
As early as last fall, Trump was talking privately with aides about the threat Biden posed: “How are we gonna beat Biden?” he would ask. When reassured that the moderate Biden would never defeat several of his more liberal rivals, Trump has pushed back: “But what if he does?”
The conversations, relayed by a Republican strategist with direct knowledge of the interactions, reflect the president’s assessment that Biden poses the biggest threat to his re-election, uniquely capable of competing with him in the Rust Belt states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that carried him to victory in 2016.
Vice News reported, on the other hand, that some of Trump’s allies are saying on the record that Biden would be a weak candidate. But this is likely posturing rather than thoughtful analysis.
There’s every reason to think Trump fears Biden. The vice president is believed to be one of the 2020 hopefuls with the best chance at sweeping the midwest by winning over moderate Trump voters who may once have voted for Barack Obama. It’s not clear how true this is, or whether the strategy is even all that sound — my personal view is that the Democratic nominee will be better off trying to drive up turnout among people of color and other groups who traditionally support the party.
But Trump clearly believes in the mythos that has been built up around his supposedly deep-seated appeal to the lauded white working-class voters. And if this is the turf Trump thinks he’s fighting on, he may plausibly fear that Biden could give him a run for his money.