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Trump advisers hope Biden stays in race, as they eye alternate scenarios

Donald Trump and his campaign hope President Biden stays in the race, according to four people familiar with private discussions, believing they can beat him even with Trump’s felony conviction and other charges. But they are also ramping up attacks on Vice President Harris.

Publicly, Trump and his allies have dismissed suggestions that Biden could withdraw from the race, insisting that it is too late for Democrats to change course. Privately, they have started preparing for different possibilities, and feel it could be harder to beat another Democrat who is not Biden or Harris.

“I’m going to show up and I’m going to campaign whether it’s him or somebody else,” Trump said in an interview Monday with Richmond radio host John Reid, referencing polls showing him doing as well or better against other Democrats.

“The funny thing is we’re beating him badly in the polls, but nobody else is doing any better,” he added in an interview that aired Monday with radio host John Fredericks.

Letting Biden be the focus of attention is unusual for Trump, who is more accustomed to dominating the headlines. But he has laid low since the debate, with no public events scheduled this week. A running mate announcement is expected as early as next week, with the Republican National Convention to follow the week after.

The Trump campaign’s message to surrogates after last week’s debate was that Biden is the Democratic nominee and Democrats are stuck with him, according to a Republican close to the campaign, who like others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Biden struggled through the 90-minute faceoff, setting off widespread alarm in his party.

“It sure seems they want Biden to stay on the ticket. They think he’s vulnerable, and they like where they’re at. You can see they are not excited at all about the prospect of him leaving the race,” said David Axelrod, a longtime top strategist to Barack Obama.

Trump advisers were privately stunned at how poorly Biden performed, believing he would be a stronger debater, people familiar with the matter said.

Taylor Budowich, who leads Trump’s outside political action committee, said the clips from Thursday’s debate “would make for devastating campaign commercials.” But Budowich also said that Harris being the nominee “has the ad team cackling with excitement.” On Wednesday the PAC, known as MAGA Inc., circulated an attack on Harris headlined, “Is Invasion Czar Kamala Harris the Best They Got?”

Biden’s campaign and the White House have insisted the president remains committed to running and are planning a fresh round of campaign events and at least one television interview. The campaign announced raising $127 million in June, ending the month with $240 million in cash on hand, compared with Trump’s $111.8 million raised and $285 million in the bank.

The incumbent and his aides have sought to stay on the attack against Trump, hitting him over abortion and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, among other issues. On Monday, Biden responded to a Supreme Court decision on presidential immunity, saying it would leave Trump “more emboldened to do whatever he pleases” in a second term.

The Trump campaign expects Biden will be the Democratic nominee, Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said. “We are confident no matter what that we will be victorious in tying any Democrat on the ballot to Biden and to the Democratic Party,” she added.

The Trump campaign has begun airing ads suggesting Harris was celebrating Biden’s struggles, showing her laughing in a way that is meant to appear villainous and collapsing the Biden-Harris campaign logo to remove the president’s name. The campaign is also attacking other Democratic candidates for their past defenses of Biden, accusing them of covering up the president’s decline.

Republicans have indicated that they would attack any Democratic effort to replace Biden as an affront to Democratic primary voters and the democratic process.

“What would be a bigger threat to democracy than taking a candidate post-primary, when millions of people, Democratic primary voters, have already voted and try to replace him at a convention with a few hundred Democratic leaders?” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), a potential running mate, said after Thursday’s debate. “That is the biggest threat to democracy that’s been contemplated in American government in the last few years.”

Outside the campaign, lawyers at the right-wing Heritage Foundation researched ballot access laws in all 50 states to be prepared to oppose any effort to remove or replace Biden after he officially becomes the Democratic nominee.

“Our research has basically uncovered that it’s extraordinarily complicated and absolutely ripe for ample opportunities for litigation,” said Mike Howell, director of Heritage’s Oversight Project. “You got to dance with the girl you brought to prom. An American election can’t be made up as you go, and the fact that such a massive lie was told to the American people isn’t a convenient enough excuse to circumvent laws.”

“We like to live by the rule that when your opponent is in the process of committing suicide it’s best to stay out of the way,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “I think after Thursday we’re going to leave the stage to Joe Biden and the Democrats who have organized themselves into a circular firing squad.”

Trump himself has been largely quiet this week, and some advisers said they want him to delay his vice-presidential announcement as long as possible to let Democrats stew in their own troubles. Two people who have spoken to Trump in recent days say he continues to focus on Vance and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as potential choices, while also mentioning other names, such as North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R).

“He truly I don’t think has fully decided,” one person who has spoken to him repeatedly said.

Leavitt said: “Very soon President Trump will make an announcement on a vice-presidential running mate who will be much more qualified and competent than Kamala Harris.”

Kellyanne Conway, a longtime ally of Trump’s, argued that Trump didn’t need to say much about the debate. “The art of politics is to tell people what they can’t see, not what they can,” Conway said. “People simply can’t unsee what they saw in that moment.”

While Democrats have plunged into panic over Biden’s poor showing at Thursday’s debate and ability to execute the campaign or serve another four years, Trump has welcomed more favorable developments, with a Supreme Court decision that delayed and could possibly eliminate his criminal jeopardy. His lawyers secured a delay of his sentencing for his 34-felony conviction in New York until September, if at all, as the judge said he will consider the effects of Monday’s Supreme Court decision saying presidents are immune from prosecution for official acts.

Some Trump campaign staff members have aired their glee at the Democratic meltdown by posting online taunts, sometimes profane, directed at Biden and his staff. But aides have also cautioned against getting cocky or endangering their own momentum.

“Right now the entire Biden reelection campaign is in a complete free fall,” Fredericks, one of the radio hosts, said in an interview Tuesday. “All you have to do is get out of the way. Let them implode.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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