“There is a major vacuum on the political front right now, with the White House focused on coronavirus response and the campaign, rightly so, echoing the White House,” said Chris LaCivita, who as chief strategist of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth orchestrated the 2004 John Kerry takedown.
“With attacks coming from all over, the simple question is: Where the hell is the president’s air cover?”
The campaign is legally barred from communicating directly with the super PAC. Trump’s reelection effort itself is not currently attacking Biden on the airwaves during the pandemic because it wants to focus on echoing the president’s message.
Liberal groups are collectively spending millions of dollars in swing states portraying Trump as an erratic leader at a time of national crisis who failed to recognize the threat the pandemic posed. Joe Biden’s campaign has launched a brutal spot savaging the president for repeatedly downplaying the coronavirus and then complaining that he could have done more had he known about it earlier. And a super PAC aligned with the former vice president is airing a commercial declaring that Trump has “failed” in his response.
Yet America First Action, the principal pro-Trump super PAC that has received the blessing of the White House, has been quiet. While the administration and reelection campaign focus on developing a daily message surrounding the crisis, senior Trump aides contend the super PAC should be leading the charge against Biden.
The angst underscores a central dilemma confronting Trump and his political advisers: How to wage a reelection campaign and respond to attacks while Americans are dying and daily life is grinding to a halt. The president’s sprawling political apparatus once envisioned launching a massive advertising blitz defining the presumptive nominee, but the idea was scuttled once the coronavirus took hold.
Kelly Sadler, an America First spokeswoman, declined to comment on the group’s plans. She said the pro-Biden groups, including Priorities USA, were squandering funds on misleading commercials while the president notched generally favorable approval ratings for his handling of the crisis.
“We are more than happy the clown car at Priorities USA continues to waste liberal donor money as they’ve done year after year. Rest assured, we have plenty of time to put Sleepy Joe to bed,” Sadler said, using Trump’s nickname for the former vice president.
After amassing a huge war chest, the reelection campaign has found itself suddenly frozen by the crisis. While campaign officials have sent out tweets, news releases, and web videos attacking Biden and responding to his broadsides, they’ve so far held back on a paid advertising effort. The cash-flush Republican National Committee has adopted a similar posture.
That’s left a gaping void.
”In the midst of the current pandemic crisis, so that the president can focus on leading the nation and projecting an upbeat message of unity, it seems like the ideal time for his super PAC to be handling political messaging, and that messaging should be defining Joe Biden right now,” said Nick Everhart, a veteran Republican strategist who is working on an array of down-ballot races.
Pressed for a response to this story, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said: “President Trump is doing his job protecting American citizens and that’s where his focus is.”
To the extent Trump is getting backup, it’s coming from a pair of unexpected figures: Florida Sen. Rick Scott and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton are funding hard-hitting ads against Biden.