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Biden v. Trump: The beginnings of a potential 2020 slugfest

Biden and Trump
Photos: Getty Images

The disagreements between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden have escalated to threats of physical violence, with Trump tweeting Thursday that Biden "would go down fast and hard" in a fight. That followed a University of Miami event Tuesday, where Biden said he'd "beat the hell out of" the president if they were in high school together.

Why it matters: It's a preview of a potential 2020 slugfest — if Biden, who's been the subject of presidential speculation, decides to run. Not only is their rhetoric a perfect encapsulation of today's polarized political climate, but it also represents the sort of smash-mouth, off-the-cuff style of politicking that's fueled both politicians' popularity amongst their respective bases.

Both men's geographical target for electoral success are the middle American swing states that have swung recent presidential elections: the traditionally Democratic, blue-collar strongholds like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin — and even states with deeper conservative roots in recent years, such as West Virginia and Kentucky.

  • One key indicator, per Reuters: The United Mine Workers, representative of the voters Trump took from Clinton in 2016, is endorsing two Democrats for Congress in West Virginia — a win for the left.

Biden's battle plan

  • Biden released a policy plan targeted directly at blue-collar America this morning, titled "A Plan to Put Work — and Workers — First." It features initiatives aimed at adapting the skills of American workers for the jobs of the future as well as combating stagnating wages for the middle class. And, in a notable 2020 lookahead, that announcement also included a list of members for the Biden Institute Policy Advisory Board — which reads like a potential Biden Cabinet.
  • The former VPOTUS threw his weight behind conservative Democrat Conor Lamb, who prevailed in the Pennsylvania special House election in a deeply conservative district. Lamb, like Biden, has discussed at length his personal — if not political opposition to abortion. And he's also notably pro-gun as the Democratic Party tacks increasingly to the left on that issue.

Trump's tactics

  • Trump's tariffs are perhaps the best example of his play for these voters, targeting China as an enemy of American workers and industry. And his play to pump up the steel industry — though unsuccessful given Lamb's win — was squarely aimed at that southwestern Pennsylvania region where steel once reigned supreme.
  • The Trump administration's primary focus through its first year in office has been on one thing: the economy. Trump's repeated tweets about "JOBS!" and the stock market's performance are designed to reassure his middle American base that his business-based economic policy is working — and stands to benefit them.