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Biden seeks to boomerang ‘are you better off’ argument against Trump

Former President Trump and his campaign’s pitch to voters is simple: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

But when Trump posed the question himself on Truth Social this week, he was met with derision from Democrats and other critics.

“March 2020 was famously a great time for everyone,” Sen Tim Kaine (D-Va.) wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter

“Again, we were literally hoarding toilet paper on this date 4 years ago,” Alyssah Farah Griffin, who was the White House communications director for Trump in 2020 but has since broken sharply with the ex-president, wrote on X.

The Biden campaign on Thursday launched a digital ad opening with Trump’s “are you better off” Truth Social post and featuring footage of patients in hospitals, doctors in protective gear and Americans stocking up on groceries. The ad closes with the word, “Yes.”

The “are you better off” framing is traditional for candidates running against an incumbent, but it may not be as straightforward for Trump, who was in office four years ago when the coronavirus pandemic was gripping the country.

Polling has shown voters still trust Trump more than President Biden on issues like the economy and immigration. But the Biden campaign has been eager to remind voters that four years ago, financial markets were sinking, the death toll in the United States was spiking and Americans were urged to remain indoors and limit in-person interaction.

“I hope everyone in the country takes a moment to think back to what it was like in March of 2020 – COVID had come to America and Trump was president,” Biden said at a Wednesday fundraiser in Dallas, invoking Trump’s social media post.

“Hospital emergency rooms were overcrowded. First Responders were risking their lives. Nurses were wearing garbage bags for protection,” he continued. “Morgues were being set up all outside, not just in the hospital. And loved ones are dying all alone.”

Trump allies have not shied away from making the claim that Americans are not better off than they were four years ago. They argue a surge in immigration at the southern border and a high inflation in particular are signs many Americans are struggling and ready to return to Trump’s policies.

Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law and co-chair of the Republican National Committee (RNC), told Fox News earlier this month Americans “can compare very easily how much better your life was with Donald Trump in office.”

Fox News host Sean Hannity this week argued Democrats “don’t want to talk about…are you better off than you were 4 years ago, because there’s no good answer for them.”

RNC chairman Michael Whatley earlier this month argued the country is “not in a stronger place than we were four years ago.” But when he asked if Americans are better off than they were four years ago, he stumbled over his answer, first saying no, then saying yes, then saying the country would be better off under Trump than Biden.

Whatley’s mix-up was emblematic of how the argument can be tricky for Republicans, because it can remind the electorate how dire things were for much of 2020 because of the pandemic.

By early April of 2020, the U.S. was reporting more than 1,000 deaths per day from COVID-19. Hospitals were increasingly overwhelmed and supply chains were strained as White House officials urged the public to remain calm and not hoard supplies.

The stock market plummeted on March 13, 2020, marking its largest one-day loss in history and the largest percentage loss since 1987.

Trump was at the center of a number of controversial moments in the spring of 2020, including in March when he gave himself a 10 out of 10 for his pandemic response and in April when he suggested exposure to heat and disinfectants as a potential treatment for the coronavirus.

Some strategists downplayed the importance of Trump’s pandemic response in the upcoming election, positing that most voters will look at his first term holistically and conclude they were better off economically or otherwise.

“I don’t think the pandemic has as much of an impact. It was a muti-year event that people have moved on from,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist. “I do think you can point to the other things that were going on in 2020, just how divided we were, the protests, the divisive election all culminating in Jan. 6, that I think does potentially help Biden.” 

Polling has shown a tightening race in battleground states between Trump and Biden with less than eight months until Election Day. But surveys have also indicated many voters trust Trump more on key issues, despite the economic turmoil of 2020.

CBS News poll published in early March found 65 percent of voters view the economy under Trump as good when looking back, compared to 38 percent who view the economy under Biden the same way.

The same poll found 46 percent of voters rated Trump’s presidency as good or excellent, compared to 53 percent who viewed it as fair or poor in hindsight.

“I kind of tend to think that people are going to look at the Trump years more holistically than taking it as literally,” said Sarah Matthews, a former Trump White House spokesperson turned critic of the former president. “I don’t think their mind immediately jumps straight back to the pandemic, I think they look at the entirety of the Trump years.”

But Biden and his campaign have made clear that they will cite Trump’s handling of the pandemic as a broader indictment of his ability to lead the nation through times of crisis. That message could resonate with voters dealing with unrest in the Middle East and the war in Ukraine, in addition to warnings from Democrats about threats to American democracy.

“The problem isn’t just going back to where Trump had the country,” Biden said Wednesday. “It’s where he wants to take us now. Look at what he’s saying. I hope we’re all going to take it seriously. He means what he says. As crazy as it sounds, he means what he says.”

Source: The Hill

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