DONALD Trump’s core general election argument is that US President Joe Biden is weak and incapable as events spin out of control at home and abroad.
Jan. 29, 2024
6 min read
Trump seizes on killed US troops
Former US president, Donald Trump
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And he is presenting himself as the strongman that America needs to save it.
The former president spent Saturday night in Nevada lambasting his successor’s southern border policies, which he portrayed as a national security disaster waiting to happen. “There’s a 100% chance that there will be a major terrorist attack in the United States, so many attacks, maybe, and it’s all because of what’s happened over the last three years,” he said. And yet Trump is also trying to kill off a Senate compromise deal that might ease the situation on the border – a sign of his growing power in the GOP and of his tendency to exacerbate the kind of chaos he’s using as a rationale for his own election.
The ex-president was also quick to exploit another crisis for political gain on Sunday.
After tragedy struck in the Middle East when thre US troops were killed in a drone attack in Jordan, Trump put all the blame on Biden and his perceived lack of strength, claiming that current wars would never have happened if he were in the Oval Office.
“(We) would right now have Peace throughout the World. Instead, we are on the brink of World War 3,” Trump said in a statement.
His attacks represent gross simplifications of complex problems and an inflated sense of his own foreign policy, which was chiefly characterized by cozying up to dictators and excoriating US allies, while turning the United States – a source of global stability for decades – into a force for disruption.
But Trump’s attacks do stress the real political peril Biden faces at home as he wrestles with the possibility that an expanding Middle Eastern war could drag the US back into a regional conflict.
Trump’s demagogic descriptions of a border under siege and a world that is laughing at US weakness come at a moment when many Americans are concerned about migrant flows at the southern border – and when bewildering world events and challenges to US power are multiplying. The atmosphere of disorder that Trump is trying to foster also coincides with a feeling among some voters that the country’s on the wrong track – especially as high grocery prices and interest rates challenge many family budgets.
So Trump’s picture of a world in disarray as Biden stands by helplessly may have some political potency.
It is also intended to play into concerns about Biden’s age and anxiety among many Americans that the 81-year-old would be unfit to lead the US in a second term.
Biden has tried to throw that back at Trump, raising questions about his temperament and mental acuity following the former president’s own recent string of campaign trail gaffes, some unhinged appearances outside courtrooms and a self-absorbed victory speech after the New Hampshire primary last week.
How events abroad interrupted Biden’s campaign swing
News of the US deaths in Jordan came with Biden on a weekend swing through South Carolina that included the most energetic campaigning of his reelection bid yet and his most intense attacks on his predecessor and want-to-be successor.
On Saturday, Biden mocked Trump as a “loser,” apparently seeking to draw him into the kind of outraged reactions that could alienate critical swing voters. He visited a barber shop, a pair of churches and a dinner ahead of the state’s first-in-the-nation Democratic primary next weekend as he sought to shore up support from Black voters – a critical part of his coalition.
But the awful news from the Middle East immediately overshadowed the trip. Biden asked for a moment of silence ahead of a Sunday lunch with a Baptist congregation for “three brave souls” the US lost in the Middle East.
“We shall respond,” he vowed.
The tragic interruption underscored how presidents seeking reelection must balance their duties with their political priorities and the way foreign crises can threaten their political fortunes.
Biden’s position is especially acute, since the expanding crisis in the Middle East is occurring at the same time as the nettlesome domestic crisis over the southern border.
US President Joe Biden
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Trump understands the president’s exposure well. After issuing a statement that offered “profound sympathies” to the families of the dead and prayers for the around 30 people wounded, he was quick to go on the offensive.
“This brazen attack on the United States is yet another horrific and tragic consequence of Joe Biden’s weakness and surrender,” Trump said.
Trump’s final remaining GOP opponent, former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, also used the attack to criticize Biden as weak. Haley, whose husband is a serviceman overseas, demanded immediate action to deter Iran.
“It shows that they would not be attacking our troops if Joe Biden weren’t so weak in his treatment of Iran. We should retaliate with the full force of American strength,” Haley said.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina went even further – demanding a US attack on Iran itself, an option that, if followed, could plunge the US into a disastrous war with a powerful adversary and set the region on fire.
Trump is back as a major political force
The intensification of the general election campaign confirms Trump’s return as a major political force following his first two wins in the GOP nominating race.
But his hardline stance on immigration is also exposing the splits in the Republican Party as a group of senators pushes for an immigration enforcement deal that they can sell to voters in November.
On Saturday night in Nevada – a key battleground – Trump described migrants, many of whom are fleeing political persecution and economic blight while seeking political asylum, as “criminals, rapists, murders, terrorists.” - CNN