Biden’s new economic messaging strategy: Attack Trump’s tax legacy

It’s an argument that recognizes the sales job Biden has tried to make about his economic needs to be more of a contrast. But aides also believe they have the fodder to make this messaging shift work.

In particular, Biden officials have homed in on the GOP frontrunner’s passage of massive corporate tax cuts during his term as a key piece of the attack. They believe they can dent Trump’s appeal to working class voters by warning he would similarly prioritize the wealthy if elected again.

The specifics of the messaging shift are still under debate and have not yet been finalized, according to a half-dozen people familiar with the discussions within the White House and the campaign, who were granted anonymity to speak freely.

But Biden aides view March’s State of the Union address as a high-profile platform to sharpen the argument that the race represents a clear option between siding with the working class or the wealthy.

White House officials are leaning toward proposing an expanded slate of tax increases on corporations and those earning above $400,000 as a central part of the address, the people familiar with the discussions said. Also under discussion is pitching those new taxes as a way to fund Social Security benefits, underscoring Biden’s commitment to protecting the program.

Trump, likewise, has spent the GOP primary positioning himself as a defender of Social Security. An easier distinction to draw for Biden aides may be around taxes. Emphasis will be placed in particular on Trump’s chief legislative accomplishment, the 2017 law centered on slashing corporate tax rates. Those tax cuts
proved unpopular at the time, coinciding with one of the low points for Trump’s approval rating. And in the six years since, Biden officials believe, the law has only become more toxic for the nation’s increasingly populist-minded electorate.

“The only thing he’s ever succeeded in doing is cutting taxes for rich people,” Kimberly Clausing, a tax policy expert and former senior official in Biden’s Treasury Department, said of Trump’s first-term legislative resume, describing it as “a populism façade with business as usual tax cuts for the rich underneath.”

In a statement, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung dismissed the prospect of Biden being able to dent Trump on economic issues.

“Joe Biden can’t run on his disastrous record so that’s why he’s resorted to non-sensical attacks in order to gaslight the American people,” he said. “But voters won’t forget that Biden will go down as the worst president in American history.”

Biden has already begun to incorporate more direct criticisms of Trump into his economic speeches, telling a crowd in Wisconsin earlier this week that the former president’s pursuit of corporate tax breaks contributed to a hollowing out of the middle class.

And in Raleigh, North Carolina, earlier this month, Biden mocked Trump as “the only president to be president for four years and lose jobs.”

Biden is also expected to ratchet up his rhetoric against corporate “price gouging,” casting himself as a bulwark against greedy companies who make Americans “feel like they’re being played for suckers,” as he’s put it in recent speeches.

To that end, the White House in recent weeks has pressed agencies across the administration to search for additional policies or enforcement opportunities that might boost competition or crack down on so-called junk fees in the run-up to the State of the Union, two of the people familiar with the discussions said.

“President Biden and Vice President Harris are fighting for the middle class and Main Street — not special interests and Wall Street,” White House spokesperson Michael Kikukawa said of the administration’s priorities.

The flurry of behind-the-scenes activity comes as Biden faces entrenched voter skepticism over his handling of the economy, despite clear data showing the U.S. in an upswing.

Biden spent the last six months trying to sell his economic agenda under the banner of “Bidenomics,” an effort to boost awareness of his accomplishments and optimism over the nation’s overall trajectory.

But that effort was overshadowed by lingering frustration with the rising cost of living. Even as Americans’ view of the economy brightened over the last two months, Biden’s approval ratings remain mired near the low-water mark of his presidency.

Within the Biden camp, officials are clear-eyed they face an uphill climb in turning the economy into a winning issue. And while nearly every presidential incumbent tries to turn their election into a choice rather than a referendum, Biden has a distinct challenge of facing off against a candidate with little in the way of a concrete policy platform to contrast himself against.

“Trump is sort of a policy chameleon,” said Danielle Deiseroth, executive director of progressive think tank Data for Progress, which has spent the last several months polling voters on messages that might erode Trump’s advantage on the economy. “He’s able to be a little more slippery.”

Still, many Biden aides privately believe the president need only fight Trump to a draw on the economy, so that swing voters’ concerns over abortion and threats to democracy play an outsized role in determining the election, three of the people familiar with the discussions said.

Casting the economic debate in broad class warfare terms does allow Biden to frame much of his agenda as examples of siding with the working class, from capping drug prices to supporting labor unions and proposing limits on bank overdraft fees.

And if Biden can convince voters that he’ll put them on the path toward a fairer future economy, Democrats said, that may just be enough to neutralize their concerns about the current one.

“It’s exactly what Biden’s economic policy is driven by, which is, help people and don’t let corporations and the ultra-wealthy cheat,” said Alex Lawson, executive director of the advocacy group Social Security Works. “Everyone loves it. Except for billionaires.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *