Biden made the issue — which could dampen Trump’s support with military families and veterans — personal during a back-and-forth with reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, on Friday, recalling the record of his late son, Beau.
“My son was an assistant US attorney and he volunteered to go to Kosovo, when the war was going on, as a civilian, he wasn’t a ‘sucker,'” Biden said, his face stern as he hammered on the offending term. “When my son volunteered and joined the United States military as the Attorney General (of Delaware), he went to Iraq for a year, won the Bronze Star and other commendations, he wasn’t a ‘sucker.'”
“(Trump) doesn’t feel it, he doesn’t understand, he just doesn’t care. He thinks if the stock market is up, then everything is fine,” said Biden, who struck a populist chord in this latest denunciation. “If his wealthy donors and friends are doing well, then everything is doing well. If corporations see their valuations rising, then they must be hiring.”
In his own news conference later in the day, Trump came out and offered a rote commentary on what he touted as positive economic news in a jobs report released Friday, before returning to misleading messages about the pandemic and a full frontal assault on The Atlantic story.
But if it was Trump’s goal to cast doubt on the details in the magazine, to suggest he couldn’t have denigrated the war dead because of his purported reverence for the military, he chose a strange way of communicating it.
“He was with me, didn’t do a good job, had no temperament, and ultimately he was petered out,” Trump said of Kelly, whose son was killed in action nearly a decade ago in Afghanistan. “He got eaten alive. He was unable to handle the pressure of this job.”
The Friday news conferences offered Americans yet another jarring contrast between Trump and Biden, capping off a week of the same. Both men visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, which has been gripped by protests and rioting in response to a police officer’s shooting — seven times, in the back — of Jacob Blake, a Black man, on August 23.
Back in his home state on Friday, Biden framed the race — as he has for months — as less of a choice between him and Trump than a question of whether the country wanted to go further down the Trumpian rabbit hole. But, perhaps more so than ever before, he seemed intent on delivering a more pointedly passionate case against it.
The former vice president reiterated that point, but also dug into the psychology of the matter, casting the comments as another attempt by Trump to “create so much chaos that no matter what the outcome of the election is, that it’s thrown up in the air.” Asked then if he was concerned that Trump’s flagrant effort to gin up doubts over mail-in voting were taking hold, Biden answered, simply: “Yes, I am.”
“The more chaos is sown here, it’s going to disincline people to show up,” he said, channeling the wisdom of voting rights experts, who say that vague, constant chatter about voter suppression — even in attempts to combat it — can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. “In a sense, every time I speak about it, I feel like I’m playing into his game.”
Stepping into the ring
Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon told reporters on a call on Friday that she believed the race is “pretty stable under the hood” as she ticked off a number of demographics — including suburbanites and independents — with which polls showed Biden outperforming 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
Mike Donilon, Biden’s chief strategist, said on the same call that the coronavirus would remain the campaign’s prime focus, for the simple reason that — whether viewed as a health or economic issue, or both — it remains a consuming worry to millions of Americans.
Trump’s efforts to move on from the pandemic, he said, would not be successful, because “that is where voters are,” adding that the President’s attempts to shift the conversation with headline-grabbing, outlandish comments would backfire.
“When there is intense focus on President Trump and what he is saying and what he is doing,” Donilon said, “I think there’s a lot of evidence over the course of this race that his numbers tend to drop.”