The Corner

Elections

Can Trump Define Biden as a Tool of the Left?

President Trump speaks at a campaign rally for Senator Luther Strange in Huntsville, Ala., September 22, 2017. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

A Politico story, being boosted by the Biden campaign, says President Trump’s attempt to portray Biden as the hapless plaything of his party’s radicals isn’t working. It might not work: The fact that Biden beat Bernie Sanders for the nomination and has opposed some left-wing nostrums such as Medicare for All will at least complicate Trump’s efforts. But the Morning Consult/Politico poll the article cites doesn’t really back that conclusion.

The key finding that the article highlights is that only 17 percent of the public believes that Biden is more liberal than most Democrats. But the Trump campaign isn’t trying to persuade Americans that he is. Trump himself has said, “He’s not radical Left. I don’t think he knows what he is anymore, but he was never radical Left. But he’s controlled by the radical Left, and now he’s really controlled.” Data on whether the public, and especially swing voters, think Democrats have moved to the left and whether it thinks Biden would be too influenced by the Left would be more relevant to the argument Trump’s campaign is making.

More important, Politico is missing the extent to which the campaign is trying to alter public opinion. If 80 percent of the public already thought that Biden is more liberal than most Democrats, there would be no need for a campaign to try to link him to extreme liberalism. Nor would there be a point to it: If that’s what the polls said, we’d have to conclude that most voters don’t hold Biden’s leftism against him enough to disturb his lead.

The key questions are whether the campaign can increase the number of voters who think Biden would give the Left too much power, and whether increasing that number would tighten the race. We don’t have enough evidence to answer those questions.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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