Joe Biden and Donald Trump trade insults in Iowa

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Nearly 17 MONTHS before polling day, it is beginning to feel as if the first days of the two-man campaign for the 2020 presidential election have already begun. President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, who were leading a field full of candidates for the Democratic nomination, were on the stump in Iowa on June 11. Mr. Biden focused on the eastern part of the state, including Davenport which was hit by a flood on the Mississippi. Mr. Trump toured an ethanol plant on the west side followed by a political fundraising dinner in Des Moines, the state capital.

Each has a good reason to show his face in Iowa. Mr. Biden was making diplomatic corrections. He appeared to woo Iowa Democrats on June 8 and 9, failing to join 19 (out of 23) candidates running for the Democratic nomination at an event in Cedar Rapids. (He made a promise beforehand, at his grandson’s school graduation in Washington.) With his strong lead in the polls, Mr. Biden may be able to stand apart from the torture. Even so, he must avoid any suggestion that, at the age of 76, he lacks the energy to scrap or is far from ordinary voters.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, is wary of losing the support of rural Midwesterners who strongly supported him in 2016. The president attended a rally in northern Wisconsin in late April . He knows that the rural people of the area have suffered in the past few years. That has happened in part because of his chaotic approach to international trade. Conflict with China has led to a sharp drop in demand for soyabean exports, and higher prices for imported steel have pushed up equipment costs. Economic uncertainty and devastating spring floods have hit rural areas. Federal financial relief has flowed in but farmers are taking it grudgingly, reluctant to be seen as increasingly dependent on subsidies and other government handouts.

Appearing in Iowa at the same time may suit both men for another reason. It is an opportunity for each to test how close they might be. Mr. Biden is not guaranteed to win the Democratic nomination, but Mr. Trump clearly thinks he is likely. And the president’s frequent attacks almost certainly strengthen Mr. Biden among Democratic primary voters. The president called Mr. Biden a “loser”, “mentally weak” and lacking energy, on June 11. Comments like this draw attention away from other Democratic candidates and could suggest, at least to Democrats, that the president is screwed.

Recent polls, reportedly including private Republicans, suggest that Mr. Biden is more popular than the president in many battleground states. Mr. Biden can figure out that the more he gets under Mr. Trump’s skin, the further he can draw from the rest of the primary field. And since most Democratic voters seem to care more about ousting the incumbent than any particular ideology, they are likely to support a nominee best for the conflict. That seems to mean coming together around a front.

Mr. Biden’s remarks on June 11, in Davenport, appeared to be designed to motivate the president. He called Mr. Trump an “imminent threat” to America and its values, and then joked that Mr. Trump doesn’t know anything about trade and economics. According to excerpts of that speech, released early this morning and picked up by the media, there was also the impression that supermarket cashiers understood better than the president that American consumers – not foreign producers – paying the price for its high taxes on imports.

So why is Mr. Trump targeting Mr. Biden if that helps an already popular opponent become the Democratic nominee? Mr. Trump may be too uncontrollable to behave differently. Or maybe he just believes that Mr. Biden is going to be his opponent. If so, he will want as much time as possible to develop lines of attack, hoping to brand Mr. Biden as weak, absent, or an establishment proxy, long before Election Day.

Mr. Trump sees an advantage in dwelling on Mr. Biden’s age and biography. “He’s a different guy,” the president said as he left the White House for Iowa. “He looks different than he used to. He acts different than he used to.” to him. It’s even slower than before.” The president is hardly young: he will be 73 this week. But he can try to introduce himself not only as younger than the Democrat, but as a friendly relative.

Mr. Biden spent eight years in the White House as vice president, and he has already struggled to protect a political record that will last several decades. Last week he changed his position on whether there should be federal funding for abortion (he used to be against it, but is now against it). Perhaps Mr. Trump, after four years in office, has the nerve to call it terrorism. After all, that worked among many voters in the Midwest last time.

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