Jun 1, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden goes all-in on calling Trump a "convicted felon"

Close-up of President Biden

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

After a day of holding its fire, the Biden campaign late Friday blasted Donald Trump as a "convicted felon" — an indication the president's team has decided to seize upon Trump's conviction to question his fitness for the White House.

Why it matters: The broadside from Biden's campaign — in a press release chiding Trump for his "unhinged" rant earlier in the day — put President Biden in the same camp as many Democrats who are now mocking the ex-president.

  • It also marked a departure from Biden's approach in remarks at the White House hours earlier, when he danced around the "convicted felon" label while criticizing Trump's attack on the U.S. justice system.
  • It's "reckless, dangerous, and irresponsible for anyone to say this was rigged just because they don't like the verdict," Biden said then.
  • "Now, he'll be given the opportunity, as he should, to appeal that decision, just like everyone else has that opportunity. That's how the American system of justice works."

Zoom in: Throughout the day Friday, Biden advisers and Democratic strategists on congressional campaigns said they wanted to know more about how Trump's conviction on 34 felony counts is playing with voters before launching a full-throated attack strategy.

  • But by the evening, Biden's campaign apparently had made the call. It sent out a press release clearly designed to get under Trump's skin, listing "34 Lowlights from Convicted Felon Donald Trump's" speech.

For some Democrats in Biden's orbit, it wasn't the kind of decision that required reams of new polling data or a fresh round of focus groups.

  • "I think it unquestionably helps Joe Biden, because I think it'll have some impact on some marginal Republicans," said Celinda Lake, one of Biden's outside pollsters.
  • "If this is a character contrast, then the best thing the president can do is act presidential," Lake said. "Keep doing your job, worry about everyday people's real lives, and let Donald Trump speak for himself."

Zoom out: Not all Democrats — especially those who are vulnerable in the Nov. 5 election — are adopting the Biden campaign's aggressive new strategy.

  • On Capitol Hill, Democratic Sens. Jon Tester (Montana) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) took a wait-and-see approach. They're seeking re-election in states Trump won in 2020.
  • A Tester spokesperson told local media that the senator "respects the judicial process and believes everyone should be treated fairly before the courts, and voters will have the opportunity to make their voices heard at the ballot box in November."
  • The spokesperson notably did not say whether Tester believes Trump's trial was fair — a focus of GOP attacks.
  • Brown has not commented on Trump's conviction.

Between the lines: Biden and his advisers still plan to focus on reproductive rights and Trump's role in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol to try to attract swing voters. They also know they need to improve voters' perceptions of the economy.

  • Biden also has launched initiatives aimed at shoring up support among Black and Hispanic voters, voting groups that typically are heavily Democratic but don't appear to be as enthusiastic about his candidacy compared to four years ago.

Contributing: Juliegrace Brufke, Stef W. Kight and Stephen Neukam

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