Debate expert Robert Barnett joins ‘The Daily Briefing’ to preview Thursday’s showdown in Nashville, Tenn.
And in Joe Biden news…
Well, there isn’t much Joe Biden news. And that’s the way his campaign likes it.
The Biden campaign declared a lid at 10:41 a.m. yesterday–telling reporters that no more news would be made that day. There have been a lot of early lids lately.
The former VP has been off the trail for several days as he prepares for tonight’s second and final debate against President Trump, which is not that unusual. The only static to emerge from the cone of silence was a Tuesday interview with a Wisconsin TV station, when he was asked about Sen. Johnson’s criticism that family members–meaning Hunter–profited off his name.
“This is the same garbage Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s henchman, it’s a last-ditch effort in this desperate campaign to smear me and my family,” Biden shot back. Oh, and his spokesman accused Trump of obsessing over “right-wing fringe conspiracy theories.”
For months now, the Democratic nominee has run a low-profile campaign while nursing his lead in the polls, perfectly happy to cede the media stage to his opponent. And the president has filled that vacuum in part with scattershot attacks that have generated nonstop headlines and cable segments that are not exactly to his benefit.
Now it’s Lesley Stahl’s turn.
Trump sat down with the CBS veteran for an interview for “60 Minutes” (which is also talking to Biden, Kamala Harris and Mike Pence). After 45 minutes he got fed up and walked out, deciding not to return for a walk-and-talk with her and Pence.
Trump posted a photo of Stahl without a mask (CBS sources say she briefly took it off after the interview while chatting with colleagues who had been tested for the virus). And there was this:
“I am considering posting my interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, PRIOR TO AIRTIME! This will be done so that everybody can get a glimpse of what a FAKE and BIASED interview is all about.”
A source familiar with the interview told the Washington Post that the main topics were coronavirus, Anthony Fauci, Trump’s attacks on Gretchen Whitmer, and Stahl pushing back on the Hunter Biden allegations. A White House staffer told the paper “the interview was not that bad” but “she just had a tone he didn’t like.”
So it’s hardly shocking that Trump would punch back afterward. But that raises the same question I’ve been exploring in recent days: How many new voters is Trump persuading by lambasting Lesley?
How many new voters is he winning by calling Reuters’ Jeff Mason a “criminal” for not reporting on the Hunter saga? How many new voters is he convincing by calling Fauci an “idiot”? How many new voters is he attracting by saying Biden and Hillary Clinton should be locked up?
And ultimately, does Hunter Biden’s foreign dealmaking, seedy as it was, move numbers for the president? Yes, the FBI has confirmed it has his hard drive. But we already knew, because of the impeachment drama, that Hunter was trying to cash in on his father’s vice presidency. The only thing that would possibly move the needle is if Joe Biden is found to have lied about helping his son.
I reported in this space on Tuesday that some Trump advisers feel their candidate has no clear closing message and is strafing targets that won’t help him. (I also reported that the campaign was strapped for cash; we now know the Trump team entered October with just $63 million in the bank, compared to $177 million for Biden.)
Well, some conservative voices are starting to speak out publicly about the president’s final push.
Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who ran against Trump in 2016, told “Fox Friends” yesterday that “what the president has to do is forget about Hunter Biden.”
Focusing on his opponent’s son is “a mistake,” Huckabee said, “because the average person doesn’t understand it. It’s too complicated. And frankly, it doesn’t matter to them. They care about their health care costs. They care about their taxes. They care about safety in their neighborhood.”
Marc Thiessen, the Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor who generally supports Trump, said on the air that “this election is not going to turn on Hunter Biden” and “this is not the closing argument that Donald Trump wants to make…Pointing at Joe Biden and yelling ‘You’re a criminal and we’re going to arrest you’ is not going to win those people over, it’s going to push them away.”
No wonder Biden himself is happy to cede the headlines to Trump. Of course, the Nashville debate could alter the chemistry of the race. But that is largely up to a president who trusts his gut more than any of the political pros.