Trump advisers hope Biden stays in the race while they keep an eye on alternative scenarios

Donald Trump and his campaign are hoping to keep President Biden in the race, according to four people familiar with private conversations, and believe they can beat him even with Trump’s felony conviction and other charges. But they are also ramping up attacks on Vice President Harris.

Publicly, Trump and his allies have dismissed suggestions that Biden might drop out of the race, insisting it is too late for Democrats to change course. Privately, they have begun preparing for other possibilities, arguing that it might be harder to defeat another Democrat who isn’t Biden or Harris.

“I’m going to show up and I’m going to campaign, whether it’s him or somebody else,” Trump said Monday in an interview with Richmond radio host John Reid, citing polls showing him doing as well or better than other Democrats.

“The funny thing is we’re beating him in the polls, but nobody else is doing better,” he added in an interview with radio host John Fredericks that aired Monday.

Biden’s spotlight is unusual for Trump, who is used to dominating headlines. But he has kept a low profile since the debate, with no public events scheduled this week. An announcement of his running mate is expected as early as next week, with the Republican National Convention following the week after that.

The Trump campaign’s message to the alternates after last week’s debate was that Biden is the Democratic nominee and that the Democrats are stuck with him, according to a Republican close to the campaign who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. Biden struggled through the 90-minute confrontation that sparked widespread unrest in his party.

“It seems like they want Biden to stay on the ballot. They think he’s vulnerable and they’re comfortable with where they are. You can see they’re not at all excited about the prospect of him dropping out of the race,” said David Axelrod, a longtime top strategist for Barack Obama.

Trump advisers privately expressed dismay at Biden’s poor performance. Insiders said they were convinced Biden would be a better debater.

Taylor Budowich, who heads Trump’s outside political action committee, said the clips from Thursday’s debate “would make for devastating campaign ads.” But Budowich also said that Harris as the nominee “would make the ad team giggle with excitement.” On Wednesday, the PAC known as MAGA Inc. circulated an attack on Harris with the headline: “Is Invasion Czar Kamala Harris the Best They Got?”

Biden’s campaign and the White House have urged the president to remain committed to the campaign, planning a new round of campaign events and at least one television interview. The campaign announced it had raised $127 million in June, and ended the month with $240 million in cash on hand, compared to Trump’s $111.8 million raised and $285 million in the bank.

The sitting president and his aides have tried to attack Trump, including on abortion and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. On Monday, Biden responded to a Supreme Court ruling on presidential immunity, saying it would make Trump “more emboldened to do whatever he wants” in a second term.

The Trump campaign expects Biden to be the Democratic nominee, Trump spokeswoman Karoline Leavitt said. “We are confident that we will prevail no matter what by aligning every Democrat on the ballot with Biden and the Democratic Party,” she added.

The Trump campaign has begun airing ads suggesting that Harris is celebrating Biden’s struggles, laughing in a way that is meant to sound villainous and collapsing the Biden-Harris campaign logo to remove the president’s name. The campaign has also attacked other Democratic candidates for their past defenses of Biden, accusing them of the downfall of the president.

Republicans have indicated they would attack any Democratic effort to replace Biden, seeing it as an insult to Democratic primary voters and the democratic process.

“What would be a greater threat to democracy than to choose a candidate after the primaries, when millions of people, Democratic primary voters, have already voted, and to try to replace him at a convention with a few hundred Democratic leaders?” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), a potential running mate, said after Thursday’s debate. “That is the greatest threat to democracy that has been considered in the United States government in recent years.”

Outside the campaign, lawyers for the right-wing Heritage Foundation have been researching ballot access laws in all 50 states, seeking to prepare for possible efforts to remove or replace Biden after he officially becomes the Democratic presidential nominee.

“Our investigation has revealed, in fact, that it is extraordinarily complicated and absolutely ripe with ample litigation potential,” said Mike Howell, director of Heritage’s Oversight Project. “You have to dance with the girl who took you to prom. You can’t just make up an American election, and the fact that such a huge lie was told to the American people is not a convenient excuse to circumvent the law.”

“We like to live by the rule that if your opponent is going to commit suicide, the best thing to do is stay out of the way,” said Ralph Reed, president of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. “I think after Thursday we’re going to turn the stage over to Joe Biden and the Democrats who have organized themselves into a circular firing squad.”

Trump himself has been largely silent this week, with some advisers saying they want him to delay announcing the vice presidency as long as possible so Democrats can continue to simmer in their own troubles. Two people who have spoken to Trump in recent days say he remains focused on Vance and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) as possible choices, while other names were also mentioned, such as North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (R).

“I really don’t think he’s made up his mind yet,” said one person who has spoken to him repeatedly.

Leavitt said: “Very soon, President Trump will make an announcement about a running mate for vice president who will be far more qualified and competent than Kamala Harris.”

Kellyanne Conway, a longtime Trump ally, argued that Trump didn’t need to say much about the debate. “The art of politics is to tell people what they can’t see, not what they can see,” Conway said. “People just can’t unsee what they saw in that moment.”

While Democrats have panicked over Biden’s poor performance in Thursday’s debate and his ability to run the campaign or serve another four years, Trump has welcomed more favorable developments, with a Supreme Court decision delaying and potentially eliminating his criminal dangerousness. His lawyers have secured a stay of his sentencing on 34 felonies in New York until September, if that happens at all, as the judge said he will consider the effects of Monday’s Supreme Court decision that presidents are immune from prosecution for official acts.

Some Trump campaign aides have expressed their joy at the Democratic meltdown by posting online taunts, sometimes crude, aimed at Biden and his staff. But aides have also warned against becoming cocky or jeopardizing their own momentum.

“Right now, the entire Biden reelection campaign is in complete free fall,” Fredericks, one of the radio hosts, said in an interview Tuesday. “All you have to do is get out of their way. Let them implode.”

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