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The Memo: Could Trump — and the Republican convention — give some respite to Biden?

By Niall Stanage - 7/10/24, 6:00 AM EDT

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President Biden might get some respite from an unexpected quarter next week — the GOP.

The Republican National Convention kicks off Monday in Milwaukee, building to its Thursday finale when former President Trump is set to formally accept the party’s presidential nomination.

There will be multiple attacks on Biden and his record, of course.

But the media focus on the convention will at least dilute the concentration on whether Biden will survive as the Democratic Party’s nominee.

The spotlight will be on Trump, his yet-to-be-named running mate and what he wants to do.

Democrats are fine with that, at least in the current circumstances.

“I think anytime the Republicans are talking about what they’re going to do, I think it’s actually good for us,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine, who has worked on presidential campaigns dating back to the 1980s. “The more daylight their issues get, the better it is for Democrats."

Questions over whether Biden could be nudged to the exit by his party have dominated the political media since the president’s disastrous showing at his debate against Trump in Atlanta on June 27.

Biden and his allies have fought back — belatedly, perhaps — this week. 

Monday saw the release of an open letter from Biden to congressional Democrats, as well as a live, phone-in interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and a virtual call with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Biden’s position appeared to stabilize further Tuesday at a meeting of the House Democratic conference, where dissent over his position failed to gain critical mass.

Still Biden has clearly been wounded by the debate performance itself. Several — though not all — polls have shown Trump’s edge widening in the aftermath.

A number of Democratic senators have expressed concern about Biden’s prospects. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) on Tuesday became the seventh Democratic House member to call for him to stand aside as the nominee.

Notably, Biden has argued strongly that the party’s public agonizing over his future only weakens his chances of defeating Trump in November.

His letter to his party colleagues in Congress concluded with the message that “any weakening of resolve or lack of clarity about the task ahead only helps Trump and hurts us. It is time to come together, move forward as a unified party, and defeat Donald Trump.”

A four-day GOP convention revolving around Trump, blanketed in media coverage, could help Biden underscore that contrast.

It’s not that Democrats expect the Republican National Convention, of all events, to solve Biden’s problems. But they do think it could be useful in moving the news agenda on, and in providing some level of scrutiny for Trump’s plans.

The president “has got to solve his problems and the party has to solve their challenges. They have to come behind him in a very strong way or there are going to be problems going into the election,” said Devine.

But he and other Democrats also insist the GOP has its vulnerabilities on a number of issues, including reproductive rights, taxation, health care — and commitment to democracy itself.

Democrats have had a political tailwind on abortion since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June 2022.

The GOP sought to create some leeway for itself on that topic Monday, when the newly-released party platform notably failed to call for a national abortion ban — the first time in 40 years such a promise has been omitted.

But Democrats believe there can also reap dividends by counterpunching against Republicans on other issues and by casting the GOP as the party of the rich.

They also say the presence of the deeply divisive Trump at center stage could help them, reminding voters of everything from the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021, to the former president’s May conviction on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Republicans vigorously contest all of this. 

They point to polling that suggests widespread voter disapproval of Biden’s performance, as well as his age. They say voters are crying out for a course correction.

Following the release of the party platform Monday, the Trump campaign issued a statement with comments from the former president’s top advisers, Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles. 

“While Joe Biden and Democrats argue about who will be at the top of their ticket and have implemented policies that have raised prices on everyday families, opened the floodgates to migrant crime via wide-open borders, shackled American energy with red tape forced by Washington bureaucrats, and sewn chaos across the world through weak foreign policy, President Trump will Make America Great Again through these America First principles,” the duo said.

Among Republicans more broadly, there is contentment — and perhaps an element of pleasant surprise — with how Trump has stayed comparatively silent while the Democratic infighting over Biden has played out.

Trump has occasionally hit out at Biden and Vice President Harris. But the former president has by and large been careful not to do anything that takes the focus off the Biden crisis.

“He has pretty much stood down and let the Democrats beat up on their own nominee,” said GOP strategist Brad Blakeman. “And the Democrats have done a great job on that.”

Blakeman argued that the GOP did not need to further emphasize the questions of Biden’s age and acuity at the convention. 

Instead, he contended, persuadable members of the electorate have formed their opinions on that score, leaving the field open for Trump and the Republicans to make a more positive case for a second term.

“The American people know what they heard and know what they saw at the debate,” Blakeman argued. “Joe Biden might get a respite, but the convention needs to be about what [Republicans] are going to do for Americans.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

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