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Trump in court, Biden in the kitchen: 2024 is a campaign like no other

By AFP

March 28, 2024 09:11 AM


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Though the candidates are the same as last time, the 2024 US presidential election promises to be unique in other ways -- pitting two men facing challenges unprecedented in the 235-year history of US democracy.

Joe Biden was already fending off misgivings about his advanced years in 2020, but America's oldest-ever president will have four more candles on his birthday cake this November.

And Donald Trump, who was facing scrutiny during the last election over his conduct before and during his term in office, now has four criminal indictments to his name -- unprecedented for a US president.

There isn't much 81-year-old Biden can do about his age, except crack the occasional joke and point out that his opponent is less than four years younger.

But Trump has tried to leverage his legal woes -- treating his court appearances as if they were campaign rallies, complete with defiant, grievance-laden speeches before the media and cheering fans.

- Fist raised -

The speeches themselves aren't exactly presidential -- it's hard to imagine Abraham Lincoln lashing out at judges or smearing political opponents as "Marxist thugs" -- but Trump's loyal base enjoys his proclivity for incendiary rhetoric and personal grievance.

They are likely to see more of it, with jury selection beginning April 15 in Trump's trial for campaign finance violations in New York.

"He likes to be able to play the role of a victim," says Todd Belt, a politics professor at George Washington University.

The strategy comes at a price. Trump has been buried under legal costs stretching into the hundreds of millions of dollars -- bills that he finances, in part, via campaign funds.

"It also takes him away from being able to do his MAGA rallies, get out among the people," says Belt.

The contest is not set in stone until the parties' nominating conventions this summer, but since the rematch became all-but-inevitable weeks ago, Trump has held just one of his signature rallies, in Ohio.

His step back is unusual for a showman who -- despite his own many verbal slip-ups -- enjoys putting on a stiff gait and pretending to be confused as he mocks Biden, delighting supporters in packed arenas.

Trump has long denigrated his rival as "Sleepy Joe," but Team Biden has been returning the compliment lately, cheekily appropriating a Trumpism to decry "Low Energy Don."

- 'Human connection' -

Like Trump, Biden's age could be a major obstacle as he digs deep to inspire passion in voters over what is set to be one of the most longest, most arduous campaigns in history.

But he has surrounded himself with aides who play to his strengths.

The Democrat has been blitzing the all-important swing states during a recent campaign schedule that has taken in Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania.

He has eschewed the stadiums that Trump likes in favor of smaller gatherings, sometimes away from the television cameras, or low-key visits to small businesses -- a barber shop with an African-American clientele, a Mexican restaurant.

He will take part in chats around the kitchen table -- set-piece events carefully stage-managed by aides who send out flattering videos after the fact rather than allowing in journalists.

Biden, hunched over a hamburger and milkshake, will talk about student debt with a group of undergraduates or comfort a youngster suffering from his own childhood affliction, a bad stutter.

Avoiding interviews with the national press, Biden prefers short exchanges with local or community-based media, and seldom holds news conferences.

"Part of what makes President Biden a successful president is that he has that human connection with people. And that's different from Trump's mega rallies," said Ben Wikler, Democratic Party chief in the swing state of Wisconsin.

In recent weeks, Biden has begun to regain ground in some polls.

With its coffers well-stocked, the Democrat's campaign is stepping up its TV ad buy and banking on a targeted approach.

But Biden's most loyal backers acknowledge that he needs to embrace the media spotlight if he is to reassure voters of his stamina and exuberance.

"They also know that he needs to be out there to overcome this image of him not being particularly young and vigorous," added Belt, the politics professor.

"I think they know that they can't keep hiding him."


AFP


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