Biden leans into Trump conviction

President Biden’s campaign is leaning into former President Trump’s conviction, suggesting it believes that reminding voters often enough that the presumptive GOP nominee for the White House is a felon will pay off at the polls in November.

The emerging strategy is crystalized by a Monday campaign ad drop that highlights Trump’s conviction in the New York hush money trial on charges of falsifying business records to cover up an alleged affair with adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

It follows Biden calling Trump a convicted felon at campaign events, and comes as the president’s campaign and allies have made the Trump guilty verdict a staple of their messaging.

The strategy to go all in on Trump’s conviction comes with risks. Republican lawmakers have rallied around the former president, arguing he is the victim of a politicized justice system.

But Democratic strategists say they are comfortable with the approach, and cast it as a way to appeal to the middle of the country in an election that is widely expected to be close and decided on the margins.

“Trump is now a felon, but he’s also been a crook, a con man, a one-term president, and the person responsible for Roe being overturned,” Jim Messina, former President Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, told The Hill.

“Not much has stopped his base from supporting him, and we shouldn’t assume a conviction will either. That said, this ad is a smart way to reach swing voters whose opinion will sway the election,”

The new ad, which is part of a $50 million paid media campaign in June, seeks to underline the comparison between Trump and Biden to voters. It was unveiled ahead of next week’s critical debate, when Biden and Trump will face off in Atlanta.

“The winner of 2024 will be the campaign that can make the election a referendum on the other guy, so the Biden team is logically going big on the New York verdict while Trump hammers Biden on inflation, immigration and questions about the president’s age and capability,” said Bruce Mehlman, a former official under President George W. Bush.

The Trump campaign pushed back on the ad, repeating its claims that Trump’s New York trial was a “sham” and mentioning polls that show Trump with a lead over Biden. Trump has a 0.9 percent lead over Biden, according to an aggregation of polls from Decision Desk HQ/ The Hill.

“Crooked Joe Biden and the Democrats’ weaponized the justice system against President Trump and this new ad once again proves the sham trial was always meant to be election interference, but Americans see through it. Despite Biden’s failing campaign spending nearly $80 million on media buys, President Trump continues to crush Joe Biden in the polls, leading in every key battleground state and winning independents by double digits,” said Karoline Leavitt, Trump national press secretary.

She added, “The contrast between President Trump’s strength and success versus Crooked Joe Biden’s weakness, failures, and dishonesty will be made clear on the debate stage next week.”

Some new polls could make Democrats and the Biden campaign more confident about the strategy.

A new Politico/Ipsos survey found that 21 percent of independents said they are less likely to vote for Trump after the conviction and that the guilty verdict is very important to how they will vote in November.

Morning Consult survey earlier this month found that 49 percent of independents think Trump should end his campaign because of his conviction, though only 15 percent of Republicans polled made that case.

“Trump being a convicted felon underscores the entire theory of Team Biden’s case against Trump, and highlights the threat to democracy Trump poses. He’s only in it for himself and is looking for revenge, and he doesn’t care about the rule of law,” Messina said.

Others warn Biden and Democrats could be making a mistake by focusing more attention on the noise of Trump instead of the issues they say voters are really focused on, like the economy.

“It’s a smart strategy for now, but I would not bet the election on this message being the winner,” said Ivan Zapien, a former official with the Democratic National Committee.

“It does two things at once: It feeds raw meat to a base that wants a fight, and it casts doubt on another segment of voters,” he added. “In the long term, people will want to hear what Biden will do to improve their lives and deal with inflation, and the rest will be noise.”

Biden’s campaign has called Trump a “convicted felon” in nearly every statement or press release they’ve put out since the verdict. The president has also used the argument, including at a fundraiser in Connecticut earlier this month.

“Look, folks, this campaign has entered uncharted territory. Last week, for the first time in American history, a former president is convicted — a convicted felon. He’s now seeking the office of the presidency,” he said.

At a star-studded fundraiser in Los Angeles on Saturday, which raised $30 million for his campaign, Obama made sure to call out Trump’s legal status.

“We had the spectacle of the nominee of one of the two major parties sitting in court and being convicted by a jury of his peers on 34 counts,” the former president said.

While Biden allies are being aggressive with their messaging on Trump’s conviction, Hunter Biden’s conviction puts a wrinkle into the campaign. The verdict in Hunter’s gun charges case creates a curveball for Trump and his allies in navigating how to attack the president over it.

Katie Grant Drew, a Democratic communications strategist, said Biden allies focusing on their rival’s legal issues should also be focusing on other issues in order to be successful.

“I think it reflects the reality of the situation; it’s an astonishing first to have a convicted felon running for the highest office in the land. It’s important, however, for the Biden campaign to continue to make that an add-on to their campaign and not the central theme,” she said.

“Continuing to talk to voters about the policies his administration has enacted to strengthen the economy and improve their lives should remain the priority. They can and should do both,” added Drew, a principal at Monument Advocacy.

Some also question if the voters that the campaign is trying to target with the ad have fully tuned in months out from Election Day.

“Targeting independent and uncommitted voters in swing states will be a focus of both campaigns, but I don’t know about a summertime ad buy, or even if people are going to tune in for a … debate,” a former Trump transition official told The Hill. “Only in D.C. is campaigning and politics a year ‘round game.”

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