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Even on Biden’s Big Day, He’s Still in Trump’s Long Shadow

Just before President Biden signed a legacy-defining package of law initiatives on Tuesday, one of his congressional allies complained that the president’s achievements are “often out of public view,” while another contrasted him with a former president who “enjoyed causing chaos.” to create”.

No one mentioned Donald J. Trump’s name during the ceremony in the State Dining Room of the White House, but his presence was nonetheless felt as Mr. Biden made significant climate, health care and corporate tax policies. A major reason why Mr. Biden’s achievements often seem overshadowed in public is because Mr. Trump is still creating chaos from his post-presidential exile.

No other sitting president has ever lived in the shadow of his defeated predecessor as Biden has for the past year and a half. Whatever the current president does, he often struggles to break the all-consuming circus that keeps Mr Trump in the public eye. Even the White House pulpit has proved no match for Trump’s reality show.

But it has become a frustrating and inescapable fact of White House life that Biden often struggles to match the man he defeated when it comes to driving the national conversation. Until recently, Mr. Biden struggled enough to communicate only his agenda and successes, and now he finds himself in a frenzied news cycle dominated by multiple investigations across multiple jurisdictions involving Mr. Trump and his allies.

“Biden cannot reinvent himself in a way that surpasses Trump. It’s just not in his nature and would backfire,” said Kevin Madden, a Republican political adviser. “The best chance he has of providing the greatest contrast to Trump is to relentlessly focus on the issues that cause the greatest number of voters the most acute fear: inflation, housing, jobs and financial security. These are all issues where if Biden can reset the trendlines, he can regain political capital.”

That’s the strategy Biden’s aides hope to use, arguing that the domestic policy package he signed on Tuesday, along with falling gas prices and investment in the semiconductor industry and veteran health care, will appeal to voters more concerned about their health. own wallet than the legal tribulations of Mr. Trump.

“The American people want President Biden to be focused on the things that affect their lives and what he’s going to do today is sign a bill that will lower their costs, the biggest concern they’re expressing,” Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, said in an interview before the signing ceremony.

Mr. Biden’s team acknowledged in advance that cable news channels would quickly return to the latest developments regarding Mr. Trump after Tuesday’s ceremony, so it chose to amplify the president’s message by enlisting cabinet officials to conduct interviews. to local and regional media organizations . The White House posted a video of the signing online and drafted an opinion article on behalf of the president that was published by Yahoo News.

Mr Biden, who has been less in the public eye of late due to Covid-19 and now on his summer break, will hold a rally in Maryland on Aug. 25 to kick off a series of events to showcase his fall performance. midterm campaign, when Democrats face an uphill battle to hold Congress. He’s planning another ceremony at the White House on Sept. 6 to celebrate the climate-health tax bill, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act by Democrats to appeal to public concerns, even though it will unlikely to reduce inflation much in the short term.

While Democrats were concerned about Biden’s dismal approval ratings in polls, the White House released a memo this week outlining plans to spread the word about the recent wave of action. “Our goal for the coming weeks is simple: take our message — one that we know resonates with key groups — and reach the American people where they are,” the memo reads.

The need, analysts said, will be to hold onto the message enough to get through despite competing developments. “Repetition is key to plowing through what sometimes seems like an impenetrable curtain between a president and the public,” said Martha Joynt Kumar, a longtime presidential communications scientist and author of books on the White House.

The challenge for Mr Biden is acute. Only 41 percent of Americans said they were even familiar with the legislation signed Tuesday. according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. But its key elements enjoy strong support among voters when informed, with 62 percent to 71 percent for provisions such as allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices and expanding clean energy incentives.



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Behind the Journalism

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How Times reporters cover politics.
We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times employees may vote, they may not support or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, a political candidate or election cause.

Mr. Biden relies on what Mr. Madden called “the analog approach in a digitized world,” which makes it difficult to compete with Mr. Trump, even if the former president is less in the news. Unlike the former president, Biden does not engage in any sort of 24-hour, seven-day bombardment of the public, nor does he throw political bombs on a whim to attract attention. He gives far fewer interviews and often lets the assistants speak for him.

He’s not the first president to face competition from a predecessor or a vanquished foe, but none of them did in the age of ubiquitous media.

Due to a quirk in the original constitutional framework, John Adams’ defeated opponent Thomas Jefferson actually served as his vice president for four years before ousting him in 1800. After John Quincy Adams won the presidency in 1825 in a four-way contest thrown to the House, his opponent Andrew Jackson accused him of securing victory through a “corrupt agreement” with another rival and spent four years plotting of revenge before winning in 1828.

William Howard Taft had to live with his attention magnet predecessor and mentor Theodore Roosevelt, who then turned on his former protégé to challenge him in 1912 in a race that both eventually lost to Woodrow Wilson. Herbert Hoover was a vocal critic of Franklin D. Roosevelt long after he lost the 1932 election and hoped to make a comeback, but never gained enough support to win his party’s nomination again.

The only president to ever successfully retake the White House after losing it, as Trump may be trying to do, was Grover Cleveland, who fell to Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and then defeated him in 1892. But even though Cleveland waited in the wings, Harrison still had a relatively free hand to run for president without his rival in the spotlight every day.

“Joe Biden is under a lot more pressure from his predecessor than Benjamin Harrison,” said Troy Senik, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush whose new Cleveland biography, “A Man of Iron,” will be published Sept. 20. “Unlike Donald Trump, Grover Cleveland remained largely out of the public eye after losing reelection in 1888, rarely spoke publicly and deeply hesitated to run for another term.”

The prospect of being chased by a pastor drove Gerald R. Ford to pardon Richard M. Nixon after Watergate ousted the 37th president from office. Ford did not want his entire administration to be preoccupied with the spectacle of a former president being investigated and tried. But Mr Biden made it clear early on that he would not grant leniency to Mr Trump in the same way, even if it meant a distraction during his own presidency.

Mr Biden’s aides said they hope to use the distracting narrative as a contrast to make a point. To win back disgruntled Democrats and left-wing independents who were concerned that Mr. Biden was failing to deliver on his campaign promises, the White House plans to argue that the legislation and other actions of recent weeks show that, even if it is late, he is achieving priorities that are important to them.

Ms Bedingfield said Mr Biden will argue that democracy can work. “The president will continue to set forth the choice people have,” she said, “between an agenda about getting things done for the American people and an agenda about breaking down the barriers of our democracy.”

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