Trump’s Agenda Will Be on GOP Debate Stage Even If He’s Not, Biden Camp Says

Trump’s Agenda Will Be on GOP Debate Stage Even If He’s Not, Biden Camp Says

  • Campaign seeks to tie GOP challengers to party frontrunner
  • DNC planning Washington war room to prepare for debate

By Michelle Jamrisko and Akayla Gardner

August 22, 2023 at 10:20 AM MDT

President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign is casting the Republican candidates set to take the debate stage as unable to escape Donald Trump’s “extreme agenda,” even though the former president will skip the event.

Ahead of the GOP debate Wednesday in Milwaukee, the campaign highlighted healthcare, abortion rights, gun safety, and threats to democracy as issues on which Republican candidates are in lockstep with Trump — the GOP primary frontrunner — and at odds with the views of American voters.

“They’re all playing out of the same playbook, and they’re all espousing the same unpopular positions that Donald Trump led with, and he continues to drag this party to the extreme,” Cedric Richmond, the campaign co-chair, said on a call with reporters Tuesday. “Whether he’s on the stage or not, his extreme agenda will be.”

Trump has said he will skip primary debates against his rivals, citing his commanding lead over the Republican field in polls. The former president holds 62% of support among likely Republican primary voters, according to a CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday. The closest candidate behind him was Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who received a mere 16%.

But despite Trump’s absence, Democrats are pursuing a strategy of painting the entire GOP field as the most extreme in history and inexorably tied to the former president’s Make America Great Again agenda.

A Democratic National Committee official separately said the Biden team has a war room in Washington being run out of DNC headquarters. The war room will have video of interviews and remarks from the GOP candidates throughout their careers to prepare content pushing back on their records during the debate.

Biden is not expected to respond to the debate directly, though his campaign team plans to send fundraising emails off the event.

Democrats see abortion as one of the leading issues to draw a contrast with Republicans.

“Opposition to abortion is a litmus test for these candidates,” Minnesota Senator Tina Smith said on the call Tuesday. “None of these candidates trust women to make these decisions for themselves, because they believe they know better.”

Democrats highlighted abortion in last year’s midterms, using Republican efforts to enact further restrictions to draw voters to the polls, even as the GOP sought to make Biden’s economic agenda and high inflation the focus.

With Trump skipping the debate, much of the attention will fall on DeSantis, who entered the race seen as the strongest challenger to the former president but has declined in the polls after a series of missteps.

Also set to be on stage are Ohio businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, US Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum.

“The real threat and I think the theme that you’ll see tomorrow is no one will stand up to the consistent effort of them undermining democracy,” Richmond said. “They’d rather ban books than assault weapons.”

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