President Trump isn’t subtle about his strategy to defeat Joe Biden if the former vice president becomes the Democratic nominee. Trump plans to wage the same sort of campaign against Biden that he did against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Back then, Trump defined Hillary as the candidate of entrenched interests who used a long career in politics for familial gain. He highlighted Clinton’s support for the 1994 crime bill and for NAFTA and TPP, driving wedges between the former secretary of state and important Democratic constituencies. And he went after Hillary’s foreign-policy credentials, painting her as an interventionist who had weakened America’s standing in the world.
It’s Biden’s turn. Biden’s close to a half century in American politics hasn’t exactly made him rich, but that hasn’t stopped Trump from drawing attention to the murky relationship between Biden’s diplomacy and his son Hunter’s business practices. Trump says that Biden, like Hillary, has been around for a long time, but what has he accomplished? Biden represents the ancient regime that Trump overthrew. Early polls aside, it’s not clear that American voters want a restoration.
One of the reasons Trump is going after Biden’s support for the 1994 crime bill is that the same tactic worked against Clinton. The same goes for his focus on Biden’s vote for NAFTA. These moves not only highlight divisions within the Democratic party. They also have the potential to cut into Biden’s support from African–American voters and from voters in the Rust Belt. And they might force Biden to move left on race and on trade. Suburban moderates won’t be happy.
Biden is vulnerable on foreign policy. His credentials and standing in the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment may reassure Beltway insiders and voters looking for experience and an internationalist outlook. This same resume, however, makes him vulnerable to the charge that the policies he supported for a generation did little to create peace and prosperity. Trump made that argument both in the Republican primary and in the general election in 2016. It worked.
As I write, Biden has a large and stable lead over his Democratic opponents. He beats Trump in a head-to-head matchup by 8.1 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. Remember, though, that Clinton’s advantage was even greater in the summer of 2015. After 16 months of Trump attacks, 77,000 voters in three states denied her the presidency. The same could happen again to a nominee easily caricatured as the epitome of Beltway cluelessness. What looks like Joe Biden’s greatest strength — electability born of experience — may also be a debilitating weakness.