Ahead of Republican debate, Biden campaign targets ‘extreme’ MAGA agenda

By Jarrett Renshaw

(Reuters) -As U.S. Republican presidential hopefuls converge in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for their first debate Wednesday evening, an unusual amount of political action will take place offstage.

Former President Donald Trump, leading significantly in the early polls, is skipping the debate and doing an interview with former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson instead.

President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign is making its first big media push, using ad buys, Milwaukee events and a crush of online volunteers to make the case that even if Trump is not on the stage, the Republicans there embrace his world view.

While Biden himself has rarely mentioned Trump in recent months, his campaign mocked Trump’s “softball ‘interview'” with Carlson Wednesday in a statement before it aired, and sought to link other Republicans candidates to him.

“That same extreme and unpopular agenda will be on display in Milwaukee later tonight by MAGA Republican candidates doing their best impressions of Donald Trump,” the Biden campaign said in the statement.

Also on Wednesday night, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, a long-shot Democratic rival to Biden, is talking with Virginia voters about inflation just as the debate begins.


The Biden campaign hosted a massive training session in recent days to push thousands of volunteers, particularly in swing states, to post online during the debate and contrast Republican statements with Biden’s record. In Washington, a joint “war room” of the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) will offer rapid response throughout the night.

For a taste of what is to come, earlier this year, a Biden campaign video of Republican congresswoman Majorie Taylor Greene comparing Biden to former president Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, published on X, formally known as Twitter, generated more than 43 million views.

“I approve this message,” Biden wrote above the video. He has seized on Greene as an avatar for what he calls the “extreme-MAGA” wing of the GOP, a reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” policies.

The Biden campaign on Wednesday will also begin running its third major paid ad campaign of the election cycle, a $25 million effort targeting eight battleground states that includes the first messages aimed at Latino and Black media.

The campaign will placard Milwaukee with advertisements listing Biden’s “record of accomplishments,” while a billboard truck will circle the debate venue. Biden campaign co-chair Cedric Richmond and DNC Chair Jaime Harrison also held a press conference on Wednesday before the debate.

“Tonight in prime time, Americans will have an opportunity to see in action, the most extreme, the most divisive and most chaotic slate of presidential candidates in history,” Harrison said.

He said the candidates want to take away freedoms and Democrats “want to paint a contrast” with them so Americans understand “how out of touch and how extreme” they are.

Harrison and Richmond did not comment on questions about how Biden and Democrats will handle Republican criticism of the president’s son Hunter Biden, who is facing a special counsel investigation on tax evasion charges.

Asked why polls continue to show Biden and Trump in a tight theoretical matchup come November when Republican candidates hold extremist views, Richmond said at a separate press conference on Tuesday: “President Biden has been counted out every single time.”

Contested primaries to challenge sitting presidents often reward the party out of power with more air time to go on the attack against an incumbent. Republicans on Wednesday night’s debate stage will likely direct most of their criticism at Biden instead of each other.

The Biden campaign says they have yet to consider whether or not Biden will debate Trump, or what it means if Trump decides against debating in the general election.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington, Editing by Heather Timmons, Nick Macfie and Diane Craft)