To beat President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE, Democrats running for the White House need to be much more proactive in taking on the president, say party strategists critical of contenders who they see as too reactive rather than proactive.
Democrats are good at offering strong responses to Trump, but they aren’t taking the fight to him, the strategists say.
“I haven’t seen one potential candidate who is willing to punch him square in the face,” one top Democratic strategist said. “And that’s what we need to do. You can’t win a race against this guy by being graceful or by waiting to be attacked.”
Philippe Reines, the longtime adviser to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE who played Trump in mock debates in 2016 and is known for his pugnacity, said former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaThe Hill’s Morning Report – Treasury, Fed urge more spending, lending to ease COVID-19 wreckage Budowsky: Michelle Obama or Tammy Duckworth for VP Michelle Obama urges class of 2020 to couple protesting with mobilizing, voting MORE’s famous “when they go low, we go high” line no longer applies.
“This notion that you go high or go low is a false choice, it’s become a misnomer,” Reines said. “Democrats are going to want to see someone with the moxie, they’re going to want to see absolute contempt for Trump.”
Democrats have been outraged over Trump for most of his presidency, but they are now fired up over the forced separations of families at the border, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the president’s widely criticized performance at a press conference Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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Trump at the presser appeared to side with Putin, accepting his denial of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He attempted to walk back the remarks on Tuesday.
The latest controversies have just increased Democratic demand for a candidate who will get aggressive with Trump.
On Monday, all of the Democrats seen as leading contenders for the party’s presidential nomination issued statements criticizing Trump. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) called it a “pathetic performance,” while Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.) called it “disgraceful.” Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook McEnany says Juneteenth is a very ‘meaningful’ day to Trump MORE (D-Calif.) said Trump had invited Putin to meddle again in a U.S. election, while Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-N.Y.) said Trump “abdicated his national security responsibilities” by not holding Putin accountable for meddling in the presidential election.
Trump says he isn’t worried about a challenge.
In an interview last week with British journalist Piers Morgan, Trump was asked if he sees a Democrat who can beat him. “No,” Trump replied.
“I don’t see anybody,” he said. “I know them all and I don’t see anybody. They do not have the right candidate.”
Tobe Berkovitz, a professor of communication at Boston University who has worked as a political media consultant, said it’s not easy for Democrats to take the fight to Trump, who has a number of advantages that come with owning the bully pulpit.
He also credits Trump with mastering the art of having an opponent play into his hands.
“It’s like he is one giant political trap and no one has figured out how do we avoid the trap and win,” he added. “I hate to say it, because it’s so pathetic, but this is the brilliance of Trump.”
Reines, however, thinks there are ways for candidates to put Trump on defense.
He pointed to Warren’s recent response to Trump after he challenged her to take a DNA test at a political debate.
Warren did punch back on Twitter: “While you obsess over my genes, your Admin is conducting DNA tests on little kids because you ripped them from their mamas & you are too incompetent to reunite them in time to meet a court order. Maybe you should focus on fixing the lives you’re destroying.”
But Reines said Warren could have taken it a step further and challenged Trump to a debate.
“She should say, ‘You tell me where and when, and I’ll see you there,’ ” he said.
Democrats searching for a post-2016 message and a leader of the party are grappling with whether to go left or to the center with their candidate and over whether they need a fresh face or a seasoned politician. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE is the leading candidate in polls.
In March, Biden ended up walking back comments about fighting Trump.
“A guy who ended up becoming out national leader said, ‘I can grab a woman anywhere and she likes it,’ ” he said before adding, “If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him.”
Berkovitz argued that Democrats are in a difficult position.
“You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, because one of the primary political lessons is ‘Don’t get into a wrestling match with a pig,’ ” Berkovitz said. “He drags everyone down to his level, so how do you rationally, articulately respond to his crazy rants without ranting crazily? That’s the quandary.”
But Adam Parkhomenko, the strategist who co-founded the super PAC Ready for Hillary, said the Democrats need to “step it up” and do more to bring the fight to Trump, particularly in light of this week’s comments on Russia.
“People are looking for a boxing match and I don’t think anyone is on the offense to the extent that they should be,” he said. “They’re just not filling the appetite of voters.”