Biden leans into COVID-19 to argue Trump mishandled economy


Joe Biden is seeking to force President Trump to play defense on the one issue where he’s had a consistent polling advantage: the economy. 

The Biden campaign is increasingly using the coronavirus pandemic to make the case that Trump has failed voters on economic issues. 

In recent days, it has sought to connect COVID-19’s economic fallout, from record-high unemployment to the closures of businesses and schools, directly to Trump. 

“We believed and continue to believe it’s a winning argument for our campaign,” Stef Feldman, Biden's policy director, said in an interview. 

The effort was helped this week by the Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, who released audio of Trump interviews from earlier this year of Trump acknowledging he downplayed the pandemic’s severity to avoid panicking the country.

The story helped push Trump’s pandemic response to the center of the news cycle again, even as wildfires raged in the West. 

Biden’s campaign wants voters to have the coronavirus on their minds when they vote in November because they think it sinks into so many issues that people care about. 

“The virus isn’t just about health. It’s tied to every economic issue from unemployment to childcare and education,” another Biden ally close to the campaign explained. “When [Trump] says ‘The economy is great,’ we have to scream ‘No it certainly is not. Take a look around. It’s impacting every part of our lives.’”

In terms of electoral politics, it should mean one thing: “Checkmate,” the ally said.

Trump has made the economy central to his reelection campaign, saying it has reached historic heights under his administration. He has pressed voters to remember how strong the economy was before the coronavirus, which he has repeatedly blamed on China. 

“We just broke a record on jobs, an all-time record,” he said during the Republican National Convention last month. “There’s never been three months when we’ve put more people to work. We’re just about ready to break the all-time stock market record.”

But in recent speeches and interviews, Biden has repeatedly referred to the pandemic to stress Trump’s lack of leadership on the economy, particularly in battleground states. 

He blames Trump for not taking the initial outbreak seriously and then failing to take action as the disease spread from state-to-state without proper testing or medical supplies.

At the same time, the campaign also rolled out a $44 million ad buy in key battleground states to emphasize Trump’s inadequate response to the pandemic. 

“To fix the economy, we need to get control over the virus,” Biden says in one spot. 

Biden’s campaign also has sought to remind voters of the former vice president’s work on the economy.

In key states like Michigan, the campaign has highlighted Biden’s involvement in helping the auto industry in 2009, which helped boost the state’s economy. 

Biden has also repeatedly discussed putting safety first and listening to scientists, arguing this will help the economic recovery. 

“I would be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives,” Biden said in an interview on ABC News late last month. “We cannot get the country moving until we control the virus.” 

Democratic strategist Kenneth Baer, who served as a senior adviser in the Obama White House Office of Management and Budget, said Biden should keep hitting Trump on the coronavirus related-economic issues because it’s working. 

“It’s all about linking how Trump’s failures as a leader have materially affected people’s lives,” Baer said.

Biden’s campaign sees evidence its efforts are swaying voters. 

A CNN poll earlier this month showed Trump with a narrow edge over Biden — 49 percent to 48 percent — on the economy. It was the stark difference from an earlier CNN poll which showed Trump leading Biden 53 percent to 45 percent.  

Another survey from CBS News and YouGov, had Biden trailing Trump by a point, 45 percent to 44 percent. And a Quinnipiac University poll conducted late last month showed both candidates tied at 48 percent. 

Some swing states are providing bright spots for Trump. 

An NBC News-Marist poll in Pennsylvania showed Trump with a big lead — 51 percent to 41 percent — on the economy. In Florida, the same survey shows Trump over Biden 53 percent to 40 percent on money matters. 

“Joe Biden has been armchair quarterbacking the entire coronavirus response, floating ‘ideas’ that turn out to be action President Trump has already taken,” said Samantha Zager, deputy national press secretary for the Trump campaign. “Biden has nothing to offer Americans aside from bad policy and opposition to President Trump, which is why he’s desperately advocating for another shutdown as the president is successfully rebuilding our economy.” 

Biden aides voice confidence voters will see Trump as having mishandled the pandemic. 

“If he had listened to the scientists and taken action we would not be in the economic situation we are in now,” Feldman said.