‘Let Biden be Biden’: The US president hits the campaign trail and goes on the attack

The Democratic nominee starts a tour of pivotal campaign stops and even jokes about his age after passing his State of the Union test

Joe Biden, about to board Air Force One, at Andrews Air Force Base, to head to New Hampshire on Monday.LEIGH VOGEL / POOL (EFE)
Iker Seisdedos

In one of the best episodes of the first season of The West Wing, the team of peripatetic aides surrounding President Jed Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, decide that so much caution to avoid jeopardizing his chances at a second term is backfiring, and they encourage him to show his true colors. Broadcast in 2000, the episode was called “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet,” and the phrase — just like the show, Aaron Sorkin’s idealized portrait of the workings of a Democratic administration — became a hit. It also ended up entering the Washington set’s lexicon. Lately, Democratic strategists and the gurus from the president’s re-election campaign are saying it loudly and often: “Let Biden be Biden.”

And suddenly Joe Biden looks comfortable in the role of Joe Biden. He is confident from the success of his State of the Union address, from which he emerged successful — as successful as expectations were low — and momentarily pushed aside the focus on his age and his ability to perform the job. He has gone on the attack against his opponent, Donald Trump, and is campaigning in decisive states. On Friday, he was in Philadelphia, as he needs Pennsylvania to win the White House again. On Saturday, he traveled to Georgia, where Trump lost the presidency (and the Senate) in the last election. There, the Republican candidate also held one of his long and disjointed rallies over the weekend. And on Monday, Biden flew aboard Air Force One to New Hampshire. It’s the sort of activity that Democrats had been demanding for months, worried about their chances in the head-to-head matchup against Trump.

In Georgia, the two candidates traded barbs at separate events on Saturday afternoon. It seemed like the world turned upside down when Trump described Biden’s solemn address to Congress as “an angry, grim, hate-filled tirade.” The Republican added that “he shouldn’t be shouting so angrily at Americans.”

Meanwhile, outside Atlanta, Biden spoke to a smaller group of supporters at an event that served to highlight a $30 million investment by three political action groups aimed at mobilizing the Latino, Asian and Black vote. Nine out of 10 African Americans voted for Biden in Georgia, but polls show a loss of confidence after his three years in the White House. At the rally, the Democratic candidate presented the November election as “a battle of two competing visions for the soul of this nation”: his own, and Trump’s “history of resentment, revenge and payback.”

In addition to being fully in campaign and attack mode, Biden is also suddenly comfortable with issues whose mere mention used to draw his ire, chief among them his age. In the State of the Union address, he sought to make a virtue out of necessity: “When you reach my age [at 81, he is the oldest president in history], certain things become clearer than ever,” he said at the end of his speech. And on Saturday Biden released an ad in which he says to the camera: “Look, I’m not a young man, that’s no secret. But I know how to get things done for the American people.” He also defends the accomplishments of his first term and mocks and criticizes his opponent: “Trump thinks the president’s job is to take care of Trump.” “Shall we do another take,” a voiceover asks next. They cut and, without changing the shot, Biden blurts out with a half-smile, “Hey, but I’m very young, energetic and handsome — why the hell are we shooting this ad?”

Shortly thereafter, the campaign of 77-year-old Trump circulated a version of that video that intersperses images of stumbles and embarrassing situations for Biden. In another ad, they pose the question, “If Biden wins, can he even survive until 2029 [when the next term ends]?”

Far-right congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks as Donald Trump looks on at the former president's rally in Rome, Georgia, last Saturday.
Far-right congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks as Donald Trump looks on at the former president's rally in Rome, Georgia, last Saturday.ERIK S. LESSER (EFE)

This Monday, the Democrat emphasized that strategy in a meeting with municipal representatives convened for a round anniversary: “Congratulations to the National League of Cities, 100 years... I want to clarify that I have always supported it, but I did not attend the first meeting,” he joked.

Election budget

A few hours later, to reinforce his electoral bid, Biden presented his budget for 2025. It is a proposal that includes maximum amounts with little prospect of getting through Capitol Hill, and as such it is full of nods to the election: it anticipates spending $7.3 trillion, higher taxes for companies and the ultrarich and measures to reduce family spending on housing and health care costs. He also renews his call for the House of Representatives to approve a 100 billion package to strengthen border security and military aid to Israel and Ukraine.

Beyond the economy, the primary process continues: Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi and Washington state vote in theirs on Tuesday. These contests lack excitement, except for two points of interest. First, they represent an opportunity for Trump to get enough delegates (he lacks 139) to officially confirm a victory that has been taken for granted since his last opponent, Nikki Haley, withdrew from the race. Second, in Washington state, Biden once again faces the uncommitted campaign organized by progressive sectors as a protest measure to demand a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. Similar initiatives have already somewhat rained on his parade in the Michigan, Minnesota and North Carolina primaries.

Biden’s support for Israel is one of the major obstacles in his path to re-election. In the polls, that position has lost him support from Arab voters, the most left-wing sectors of the Democratic coalition and young people. In his State of the Union address, he promised the construction of a temporary port to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. But despite his promises, he has not succeeded in bringing the negotiations for a second ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to fruition (six weeks of ceasefire with an exchange of 40 out of 130 hostages in the Gaza Strip for the release of 400 Palestinian prisoners and an increase in humanitarian aid) before the start of the holy month of Ramadan last Sunday. On this front, Biden still has not found the best way to be Biden.

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