From the look of things, you might think the presidential election of 2020 is oh, maybe a few months away at this point.
Then again, that often seems the case when control of the White House — and so much else — hangs in the balance. Election cycles are practically upon us from the moment a new president is inaugurated (even before then, actually).
Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump have been engaged in a war of words recently, with each painting the other as out of touch, out of ideas, out of breath, out of his element — and yes, “out” is the operative word here, as we’re still 17 months out from the 2020 election (it’s only June 2019, after all).
On Tuesday in Washington, D.C., just before he headed off to a political event in Iowa, Trump called Biden “mentally weak.”
“It looks like he’s failing. It looks like his friends from the Left are going to overtake him very soon,” Trump told reporters gathered on the White House lawn.
“When a man has to mention my name 76 times in his speech — that means he’s in trouble. He’s a different guy,” added Trump, referencing recent remarks by Biden. “He acts different than he used to. He looks different than he used to. He’s even slower than he used to be.”
“I’d rather run against, I think, Biden than anybody,” the president continued in the brash and direct style his supporters have come to cherish and appreciate. “I think he’s the weakest mentally and I think Joe is weak mentally. The others have much more energy.”
He also called him “one percent Joe.”
And a “dummy.”
And a “loser.”
He added, “Until Obama came along, [Biden] didn’t do too well.”
These and other monikers and comments will stick, judging by the past. Why? Because this is what Trump does — and very, very effectively. (“Crooked Hillary,” “Low-Energy Jeb,” “Little Marco,” and “Nervous Nancy,” anyone?)
Biden, for his part, also was in attack mode to the best of his ability during a series of campaign events in Iowa this week. At one point he called Trump “an existential threat” to our country.
“This is a guy who does everything to separate and frighten people,” Biden also said of Trump at a speech in Ottumwa, as Fox News noted.
And Biden criticized the tariffs that the Trump administration has exercised against China and other countries.
“Any beginning econ student at Iowa or Iowa State could tell you that the American people are paying his tariffs. The cashiers at Target see what’s going on. They know more about economics than Trump,” Biden also was scheduled to say at one Iowa stop in prepared remarks that his campaign released ahead of time.
Biden also chose to go boldly where few others have gone, except maybe himself. At one Iowa stop, he vowed to cure cancer if elected in 2020.
At the campaign event in Ottumwa, Biden noted the difficulty people have with the “loss” of a family member or other loved one — and how hard it is for them when well-meaning individuals try to offer comfort by saying, “I know how you feel.” The reality is others really have “no idea how I feel.” All of this was almost certainly in reference to the death of Biden’s son Beau Biden, who passed away of brain cancer in 2015. That was at least part of the reason Biden did not run for president in 2016.
“I promise you if I’m elected president, you’re going to see the single most important thing that changes America. We’re gonna cure cancer,” Biden declared.
That audacious promise, while it attempts to change the trajectory of the heated political conversation, comes with some peril. Back in 2016, Biden headed the Cancer Moonshot initiative during the Obama administration; it was a renewed effort to find a cure for cancer.
And after he left office, he started the Biden Cancer Initiative, an organization based in Washington, D.C.
By launching his cancer promise, he risks repeated questions about where all of this work stands — and what it’s accomplished to date.
He’s also trying to ward off and redirect the Trump attacks — which he may never be able to do successfully.
Trump is younger than Biden (the president turns 73 this Friday, June 14; Biden will turn 77 this November). Both men want the White House in 2020. But Trump’s energy level, and his pace, and his schedule, and his ambition, far outshine Biden’s.
“Biden’s camp is scrambling to triage his reputation,” noted Fox News host Laura Ingraham of “The Ingraham Angle” on Tuesday night.
Each of these men has gone after the other in the past. Each will go after the other again and again (and again) before the 2020 election. This is for sure. For all those willing to listen, watch, learn — and judge for themselves — yes, there will be much more political theater, and debate, and diatribe.
Biden, who has skipped a number of other campaign and party-focused events in recent weeks, still needs to secure the Democrat nomination, of course. So “let’s see what happens,” as Trump likes to say.
The first Democratic debate takes place this month — over two nights, June 26 and June 27, in downtown Miami, Florida. (A total of 20 spots are available for those two nights — so some unlucky folk among the 24 currently vying for position will be out in the cold.)
Candidates qualify for the debate based on polling and fundraising.
Biden will be among those taking the stage.
But well before then, there’ll be plenty more battles in the political war of words.