“The Bernie people should come to the Republican Party,” Trump tweeted, arguing that he is a better fit for Sanders’s voters than Biden.
But Biden also pulled it off, they said, because he embraced the far-left policies of the anti-establishment Sanders and is indistinguishable from the self-described socialist.
“They are both the same,” tweeted Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.
As an opening salvo for what is certain to be a historically fierce general election campaign, the Trump tactics offered a window into the race ahead, pitting a conventional Democratic campaign against a Republican incumbent still striving to scramble political categories.
The comments from Trump and his campaign Wednesday underscored how they plan to begin the general election by running two distinct campaigns against the presumptive Democratic nominee. One is a competition for the ideological center of the country, run through the tony, tax-skeptical suburbs of key swing states that rejected the GOP in 2018. The second is a fight for the mostly working-class populism of the left, which has rejected the establishment politics of both national parties.
“There is a sizable chunk of Bernie voters who just like the populist appeal,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said. “Now that Bernie is no longer in the race, those people may be looking for a home.”
Democrats took a long and sometimes painful road to the most predictable result, effectively choosing a well-known former vice president who led national polls for most of the past year after 11 debates, hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign advertising and the candidacies of more than two dozen rivals who have since dropped from the race.
Forty years after he first considered running for the nomination, Biden stands to inherit control of a more unified party than former nominee Hillary Clinton had in 2016, with the ability to take control months before his convention aided by the vocal support of his chief rival, who will nonetheless keep his name on ballots in an effort to influence the party platform.
“Today I congratulate Joe Biden, a very decent man who I will work with to move our progressive ideas forward,” Sanders said Wednesday in announcing his decision to suspend his campaign.
For most national Democratic political strategists focused on the general election, Biden’s victory was an encouraging result to a campaign that had threatened at several points to go off the rails, following a blown Democratic caucus process in Iowa and fierce interparty warfare over Biden’s past positions on issues like school segregation and the best path forward for broadening government-backed health care.
Biden will enter the general election having shown that he can withstand his own uneven campaign performance and an unending torrent of political storms — including largely debunked allegations about impropriety in Ukraine that led to Trump’s impeachment — that would have short-circuited the campaigns of less well-established candidates.
An April poll by Quinnipiac University found that 43 percent of Americans had a favorable view of Biden, roughly on par with the 41 percent who had a favorable view of Trump and down six points from Biden’s favorability rating last May.
More important for party leaders is the reach of Biden’s support. “The vice president has incredibly broad appeal. He won every county in Michigan. He won every county in Florida,” Democratic Chairman Tom Perez said Wednesday after Sanders suspended his campaign. “Donald Trump is scared to death of Joe Biden because Donald Trump understands that Joe Biden has the qualities that Americans want.”
The Biden coalition in the primaries, which saw large turnout for him in the suburbs, echoes the strategy Democrats used in the last midterm elections, when they took control of the House by winning with big margins and high participation from college-educated women and nonwhite voters.
“I think the Biden campaign has shown that this is their exact same strategy,” said Dan Sena, who led Democratic House campaign strategy in that cycle. “This is the exact right strategy.”
In the face of those strengths, Trump’s campaign still counts several distinct advantages as it steps into the breach: A massive advantage in fundraising and volunteer support, and a candidate who can easily command the nation’s attention and is backed by a solid base of support.
“President Trump’s voters would run through a brick wall to vote for him,” Murtaugh said. “Ain’t nobody running through a brick wall for Biden.”
But the Trump campaign has also already shown its concern in the enormous energy it put into the Democratic primary season to sink Biden’s candidacy, including advertising campaigns against the former vice president in states where he was competing for the nomination. Trump was ultimately impeached by the Democratic-led House for his attempts to pressure the government of Ukraine to issue statements to harm Biden’s reputation.
Unlike Sanders, who offered Republicans an enormous opportunity to brand the Democratic Party up and down the ballot as “socialist,” Biden enters the contest as a known mainstream Democratic commodity who has resisted many of the demands of the party’s left flank to replace private health insurance and radically expand government spending.
That has not stopped Trump advisers from seeking to cast Biden as a socialist sheep in Democratic garb. Several Trump allies said that while Biden was able to secure the nomination in the face of such attacks, he was forced to shift to the left and can now be attacked for embracing liberal positions on things like gun control, environmental regulations and immigration.
The campaign released a digital ad Wednesday comparing Biden to Sanders, describing the former as a “big government liberal” and the latter as a “big government socialist.” The ad also attacks the acuity and health of Biden, 77, who is four years older than Trump.
“They’re more alike than you think,” the narrator says in the ad, which the campaign said it was spending six figures on. “But at least Bernie remembers his positions.”
This part of the attack is targeted at the same parts of the country that delivered Democrats their victories in 2018. The Trump campaign has identified about 9 million Trump voters from 2016 who did not turn out in 2018 for Republicans, and it is aggressively trying to contact them.
“Anybody who has a radical social position or the progressive social positions that the Democratic Party has espoused and that Joe Biden has embraced, I don’t see that candidate really being able to speak to those swing voters in Pennsylvania that the Democrats are going to need to win,” said David Urban, a political adviser to the president and his campaign, who led Trump’s Pennsylvania effort in 2016. “I think he will be defeated just like Hillary was.”
The idea of trying to continue sowing discord in the Democratic Party by pushing the message that Sanders was forced out of the primary by the party establishment could be effective, according to Trump’s supporters. Strategists in both parties believe the contentious Democratic primary in 2016 helped pave the way to Trump’s election.
Trump’s campaign, which has been regularly intervening in the primary process even amid a pandemic, continued its attempts to inflame party tensions Wednesday.
“It’s official: Crazy Bernie is dropping out of the race. Democrats never wanted anything to do with Crazy Bernie — it was RIGGED against him from the start,” Trump wrote in a fundraising appeal.
Democratic interest groups have already been spending heavily on attack ads against Trump in key swing states, but now that Biden has sewn up the nomination, their Republican counterparts are preparing to respond in kind.
America First Action, the official super PAC backing Trump, has said it plans to release a torrent of negative ads and opposition research against Biden in the coming months, pointing to the model used against GOP nominee Mitt Romney by pro-Obama forces in the summer before the 2012 election.
“Our focus has been and will continue to be on putting sleepy Joe Biden to bed,” America First spokeswoman Kelly Sadler said.
Officials at the super PAC told reporters in February that the group was sitting on a thick binder of opposition research that it could deploy as soon as the Democratic nominee had emerged.
The group’s internal polling nonetheless showed Biden with the strongest favorability among top Democrats in the race across key battleground states.