Yet some pundits are wondering whether the nightly briefings, some of which run more than two hours, are a huge gift of free media to Trump, exposure that will be even more of an issue as the election nears.
At Thursday’s press briefing, Trump was asked about concerns over holding the election in the middle of a pandemic, but he turned his attention to Biden.
“We have a sleepy guy in the basement of a house, that the press is giving a free pass to, who doesn’t want to do debates because of COVID, and lots of things are happening,” Trump said. “And I watched a couple of interviews and I say, ‘Oh. I look forward to this.’ But they are keeping him sheltered because of coronavirus, and he’s not moving around. He’s not moving too much.”
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A strategy of Trump’s reelection campaign has been to characterize Biden as old and feeble. Last month, the campaign referred to Biden as a “rotting corpse” and a “dead guy.”
Earlier on Thursday, Biden actually said at a virtual fundraiser that he could hardly wait to debate Trump. “Are you kidding?”
Biden said he would debate Trump on “Zoom or Skype or Slack or hangouts or in person, anytime, anywhere.”
Biden’s campaign has tried to counter Trump’s nightly exposure with appearances on late night talk shows and with local news outlets. A flurry of recent polls shows that despite Trump’s dominance of the conversation, it isn’t necessarily helping him. In the Real Clear Politics average, Biden was the leader nationally and in three swing states, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, that Trump won in 2016. Biden also has opened up a lead in Florida.
In fact, Biden’s campaign has started to craft ads out of some of the raucous moments of Trump’s nightly briefings, including one where he scolded CBS News reporter Weijia Jiang.
That said, Trump ultimately could benefit from the nightly platform.
On his podcast Hacks on Tap this week, co-host David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said that “however crazy some of the [Trump] press conferences have been, the guy commands an audience of millions every day and he is not going to let go. He sees it as a top rated TV show and he’s the action star, and he’s going to keep it. And Biden is there in his basement, and seems like a kind of spectral figure. So I think there is a tactical challenge for Biden here.”
Axelrod added, “These very, very intermittent interventions on television news programs don’t seem adequate to me, and I think the image of the president at the podium, surrounded by his team, occasionally talking about the virus itself, still connotes a level of energy that is hard to show when you are in the basement.”
Axelrod’s co-host, GOP strategist Mike Murphy, said of Biden, “He doesn’t have a platform.”
Already, news networks have been under some pressure to stop carrying the briefings live, and CNN and MSNBC have broken away from Trump’s remarks to do fact checking or to go to other coverage.
But the extended airtime for Trump could become a question of fairness as the election nears.
Jonathan Karl, chief White House correspondent for ABC News, said in a Politics & Prose conversation earlier this week that some of the briefings have been “indistinguishable from a political event.” He pointed to one briefing last week where Trump played a video in which governors offered their words of praise. The segment had the tone of a campaign commercial.
Karl said, “It does seem to me as we get closer to the election that you have to raise the question if you are going to carry the president kind of unfiltered — there are questions and he gets a lot of time to tell his story — then how are you covering Joe Biden? And what opportunities you are giving Joe Biden out there, and I think those are serious questions.”
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