Aug 18, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump campaign ad attacks Biden's mental faculties

Image of a Trump campaign ad showing Joe Biden looking old
Trump campaign ad screenshot

President Trump's re-election campaign launched its most brutal ad of the 2020 election overnight, suggesting Joe Biden has experienced severe mental decline over the past four years.

Driving the news: The digital ad, "What happened to Joe Biden," is timed to overlap with the Democratic National Convention and launches the Trump campaign's four-day takeover of the YouTube masthead.

  • That's prime internet real estate the campaign has bought in what it calls a "high seven figures" digital advertising effort to undercut the DNC's messaging this week.

The details: The new ad splices footage of Biden speaking energetically and articulately in 2015 and 2016 alongside clips of him stumbling over his words and appearing to lose his train of thought during the 2020 campaign.

  • It's the harshest president campaign attack in what is shaping up to be an even uglier messaging year than 2016.

Behind the scenes: Earlier in the campaign, some Trump aides privately expressed reservations about attacking Biden over his mental fitness. Several argued that it could alienate seniors. But the proponents of this strategy prevailed.

  • The Trump campaign has been gradually making this line of attack more explicit — with one ad describing Biden as "diminished" and another suggesting a mental "decline" was the reason he hasn't taken a cognitive test.

What they're saying: "We think it's very important that voters fully assess Joe Biden's qualifications and fitness to be president," a senior campaign official told Axios.

  • "Our data show that people are concerned about his ability to do the job," the official said. Asked to provide evidence of that specific data, the Trump campaign declined to do so.

The other side: "Donald Trump is spectacularly failing every conceivable strategic test by ramping up mentions of this subject at all," Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in response to the ad.

  • "Joe Biden sounded the alarm about the outbreak early, whereas Donald Trump is still promising us the virus will magically 'disappear.' Joe Biden has highlighted the advice of medical experts throughout the pandemic, but Donald Trump publicly encouraged COVID-19 victims to inject themselves with disinfectant."
  • The Biden campaign also cited polls suggesting Americans have more confidence in Biden's mental fitness than Trump, including a July Monmouth University poll that found 52% believe Biden has the mental and physical stamina to serve as president, compared to 45% for Trump.
  • However, that poll also found that Democrats are less sure about their candidate than Republicans are about theirs: 47% of Democrats say they're very confident in Biden's stamina, while 72% of Republicans say they're very confident about Trump.
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