WASHINGTON — With Donald Trump’s announcement that he is officially running to reclaim the Oval Office he falsely asserts was stolen from him, President Joe Biden is ready to implement what some of his top aides refer to as “the Trump project.”
Biden has spent much of the last year putting a fearsome face on the “ultra-MAGA” agenda, taking aim at Republican senators, governors and state lawmakers. Now, he will return the focus to his once and future foil — Mr. “Make America Great Again” himself.
Inside the West Wing, a small group of presidential advisers has been working to develop a plan for how Biden and the White House will respond to what they expect will be a constant stream of invective from the former president now that he is formally a candidate.
Trump started the attacks almost immediately in his speech Tuesday night announcing his presidential run, as he complained about “Biden and the radical-left lunatics running our government right into the ground.”
Biden will continue to underscore his belief that Trump is a threat to democracy, advisers say. But his political handlers are determined to show that Trump’s four years did not yield actual accomplishments for the American people.
On Tuesday, just hours before Trump’s announcement, Biden’s political Twitter account posted a video mocking the former president’s claims that he was doing something about the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The video, titled “The difference between talking and delivering,” showed Biden signing his $1 trillion infrastructure measure into law, juxtaposed with a compilation of clips of the former president using the word “infrastructure.”
In the middle of Trump’s speech, the Twitter account posted another video, titled “Donald Trump failed America,” showing scenes of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on Capitol Hill.
The effort to coordinate the Trump response has involved months of research and is being led by Anita Dunn, one of Biden’s top communications strategists, and Jen O’Malley Dillon, who ran Biden’s 2020 campaign and is now the deputy chief of staff at the White House.
Biden said last week that he “intends” to run in 2024 but would talk with his family before announcing a decision early next year.
Still, officials said Trump’s presence in the race would motivate him to run again. Biden views his predecessor as a danger that needs to be stopped. He regularly notes that he is the only person who has ever defeated Trump, implying that he would have the best chance of doing it again. He has publicly said he would “not be disappointed” to face Trump in a rematch.
Biden was encouraged by the better-than-expected showing among Democrats during the midterm elections. But he remains deeply unpopular himself, according to polls, and he faces political headwinds: an economy still buffeted by inflation, a deepening war in Europe, and ongoing questions about whether he is too old for another term.
In the last year, as the midterm elections drew closer, Biden has focused increasingly on the movement that Trump created.
He assailed “300 discriminatory bills” passed by Republican legislatures. He lashed out at the Texas governor for investigating transgender families. He accused Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, of banning books; and Rick Scott, the state’s Republican senator, of a secret plot to raise taxes on Americans.
At the Democratic National Committee, officials have kept an eye on the former president, even after he left Washington for his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. The party has assembled about 40 researchers to catalog every speech, radio address, TV appearance and newspaper article featuring Trump and other Republican candidates, in an effort to assemble the most comprehensive case against the former president and Republicans in the upcoming campaigns.
On Tuesday, the DNC announced that it would begin hiring staff in New Hampshire, Florida and other early primary states to hold Republican presidential candidates such as Trump accountable for what they say as they begin campaigning for the White House in 2024.
It is the earliest the DNC has started making local hires before a presidential campaign, officials said.
“Today is just the kickoff to what will be a messy Republican primary, with candidates competing to be the most extreme MAGA Republican in the race,” Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement. “The DNC will be ready for them all.” Party officials said they would continue to highlight the actions of other potential Republican candidates, including DeSantis, along with longtime Trump supporters like Tucker Carlson, the right-wing Fox News host, and Mike Lindell, owner of MyPillow, who backed Trump’s claims of election fraud.
But Trump is a special case.
Biden has long said that his campaign for the presidency in 2020 was motivated by Trump. In the video announcing his campaign in 2019, Biden lambasted his rival for claiming a “moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it” after the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But as president, Biden often tried to ignore the man he refers to as “the former guy.” Trump’s formal entry into the race could bring an end to Biden’s restraint, as some Democrats invariably will press him to call out Trump loudly and repeatedly.
The former president and the MAGA movement he created were central topics in the midterm elections, even without a formal announcement of Trump’s own candidacy.
It was Trump’s successful nominations of three conservative justices to the Supreme Court that paved the way for the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating constitutional protections for abortion. Biden and Democrats seized on that ruling as a key part of their message to turn out their voters.
Trump’s long-standing defense of the National Rifle Association came under increasing scrutiny in the wake of shootings, including of elementary school children in Uvalde, Texas.
And Democrats had always planned to focus on the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, particularly his actions around the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
It is unclear to what extent Trump maintains the ironclad grip on Republican politicians and voters that he wielded so effectively during his four years in the White House.
Most of the election deniers who campaigned by repeating Trump’s 2020 grievances were defeated — albeit narrowly — by Democrats who argued that Americans should reject the former president’s agenda.
White House officials remain coy about when Biden will formally announce his own decision about running for a second term. Once the president confirms his candidacy, new rules kick in about how he has to raise and spend money on his campaign. His advisers want to delay that until they are ready.
But in the meantime, Biden himself has become increasingly convinced that his mission to remove Trump from office — and keep him out of the White House — is not yet over.
“Nobody has identified more clearly the unique existential threat that Donald Trump poses to the country than Joe Biden,” Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, said before Trump’s announcement. “And nobody else has defeated him. So, you know, I think that for us, those are the two North Stars.”
After Trump’s speech Tuesday night, a reporter traveling with the president for the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, asked Biden whether he had a reaction to the announcement. Biden, who was meeting with President Emmanuel Macron of France, looked at his counterpart and the two men smirked.
“Not really,” Biden said.