Dems Debate How to Hit Economy, Crisis 04/09 06:18
Democrats are wrestling over how best to assail President Donald Trump for
his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy's shutdown, even as
the country lurches into an unpredictable campaign season during its most
devastating crisis in decades.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats are wrestling over how best to assail President
Donald Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy's
shutdown, even as the country lurches into an unpredictable campaign season
during its most devastating crisis in decades.
Trump has provided Democrats with plenty of political fodder, including
leading a slow-footed federal response to an outbreak that has caused profound
economic, health and social disruption. Democrats are already using reams of
video of Trump denying and playing down a crisis now killing hundreds of
Americans daily, erasing millions of jobs and closing countless businesses.
Underscoring a Democratic consensus that Trump's own words will be a potent
weapon, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said: "Donald Trump does have the biggest
bully pulpit. But fortunately for Democrats, Donald Trump has the biggest bully
Yet seven months from Election Day, Democrats have not matched the attention
Trump can command with daily, nationally televised briefings that can exceed
And they're juggling conflicting instincts: attack Trump aggressively now
and risk accusations of using a catastrophe for political reasons, or wait
until society starts returning to normal. That might give him time to define
himself as a wartime president battling a virus that's enveloped the globe.
"There has been gross incompetence" by Trump and that's "a huge
vulnerability," said Jim Margolis, a leading Democratic communications
consultant. "But Democrats must take care not to gratuitously attack the
administration or look like they are playing politics with a crisis."
"A purely partisan attack is inappropriate for the times we're in," said
former Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who once headed House Democrats' campaign
Both approaches --- strike vigorously now or later --- are being tested in
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential
nominee, has faulted Trump's response. But he's avoided the sharpest attacks
while trying to project an image as a steady, experienced crisis manager.
"He's the commander in chief --- it's time he steps up, takes
responsibility, and does his job," Biden tweeted Wednesday. His path to the
nomination cleared hours earlier when his only viable rival, Sen. Bernie
Sanders, I-Vt., dropped out.
Congressional leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Democratic governors like New York's
Andrew Cuomo and Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer have tangled with Trump. But
they've mostly stressed legislation and other steps they're taking to bolster
the economy and the overwhelmed health care system.
They've also presented themselves as calming alternatives to Trump, whose
briefings have been marred by false and confusing assertions that contradict
public health professionals' views and angry outbursts at reporters whose
questions he dislikes.
"This moment is exactly wrong for President Trump because he can't distract
people from a pandemic with a provocative tweet," said Sen. Brian Schatz,
Yet at the same time, Democratic political groups are spending millions on
television and digital ads that pull few punches.
"Crisis comes to every president. This one failed," says one spot by Unite
the Country, a political committee backing Biden. As red circles dotting a U.S.
map ominously expand, the announcer says Trump "let the virus spread unchecked
"Perception can get baked in very quickly," said Tara McGowan, who leads
PACRONYM, an anti-Trump political committee. "You simply can't afford to wait."
The array of voices delivering Democrats' messages has reflected the party's
lack of an undisputed leader before Biden formally clinches the nomination.
"It's really going to have to be an all hands on deck approach," said Guy
Cecil, who heads Priorities USA, the largest Democratic outside political group.
Democrats' efforts to enter the spotlight have been complicated by the
nation's lockdown, which has prevented public rallies and interactions with
voters that are normally the lifeblood of politics.
"Trump's press conferences blot out the sun," said Adam Jentleson, a
Trump has noticed. He tweeted that "Radical Left Democrats have gone
absolutely crazy" over his daily briefings and boasted of "'Monday Night
Football, Bachelor Finale' type" ratings.
Republicans say Democratic attacks now would be ineffective, with voters
concentrating on keeping their families safe. "People are hungering for
official information as opposed to a partisan response," said GOP pollster
Other Republicans see big vulnerabilities for Trump.
"If this is a war, it's hard to spin a war," said long-time GOP consultant
Stuart Stevens, a Trump opponent. "There are body counts. And what are you
going to do with these unemployment numbers?"
After a slow start that concerned many Democrats, Biden has asserted a more
visible role with television interviews, virtual town halls, podcasts and
newspaper columns that describe his prescriptions for a recovery, such as
accelerated aid for the jobless and small businesses.
Biden aides said his approach balances holding Trump accountable while
making specific policy recommendations. They said it also lets him display the
empathy that's been part of his public persona ever since his wife and daughter
were killed in an auto accident shortly after his 1972 election to the Senate.
Still, Democrats' quandary over finding a messaging balance has fueled
countless conversations within the party. More than 100 groups, from the
AFL-CIO to Public Citizen, hold thrice-weekly conference calls to share
research and strategy, said Leslie Dach, who runs the Protect Our Care
Coalition, which hosts the calls along with the Center for American Progress.
"It's a moment to double down, but we have to do that in a surgical way, not
a jackhammer on his head," said Bradley Beychok, president of American Bridge.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such
as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially
older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe
illness, including pneumonia, and death.