Here's the Democrats' plan for handling Donald Trump as Joe Biden's biggest critic and Twitter troll during the next 4 years
- Donald Trump is shaping up to be Joe Biden's biggest critic and internet troll starting on January 20.
- Ex-presidents often lay low for a while, focusing on things like pet projects, painting portraits and getting reacquainted with their families.
- But the outgoing Trump — known for personally attacking his critics on Twitter — isn't expected to be quiet once he's out of office and as he flirts with a 2024 campaign.
- Democrats are gaming out a battle plan that includes ignoring Trump as much as possible, with operatives outside the White House at the DNC and elsewhere planning to give the new president air cover by swinging back on social media and cable news.
- "The worst thing you can do with Trump is to ignore him," said longtime Democratic strategist Lanny Davis.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
"Crazy Joe Biden," "Sleepy Joe Biden," and a "very LOW ENERGY INDIVIDUAL."
Those are just a few of the names President Donald Trump has called President-elect Joe Biden over the last couple of years. It's only going to get nastier.
Democrats around Biden are bracing for Trump's constant barrage of criticism and name-calling to only grow when he becomes an aggrieved ex-president with 88.5 million Twitter followers, a loyal base of supporters, and a fondness for using shock value to keep his name in the headlines.
So how will Biden and his allies handle an ex-president poised to become Biden's biggest troll?
Biden and the White House will do their best to ignore him, according to Democratic insiders and messaging experts. Operatives outside the White House — including the Democratic National Committee — will offer air cover to the new president by playing defense on social media and cable news in the hopes that it lets Biden and incoming VP Kamala Harris stay out of the fray.
"I'm sure there will be political hatchet men in the Biden universe who will be happy to take Donald Trump apart as needed, but I don't think they're going to have the president do it," said Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist who worked on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.
Democrats desperately want to ignore Trump and his missives, and Biden's top aides have already telegraphed their desire to talk about the soon-to-be ex-president as little as possible.
Biden's incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed a question from Fox News on Sunday about whether Trump will attend the inauguration ceremonies. "I would say it's not on the top 10 list, or even longer than that, of [Biden's] focus of priorities," Psaki said.
Biden has been taking shots at Trump's policies lately, accusing the current president of bungling the response to the coronavirus pandemic and failed to prevent the massive cybersecurity attack against federal agencies. But by and large, he's tried to avoid the kind of personal mud slinging that Trump seems to revel in.
"My focus is on uniting, not emphasizing the divisions," Biden told reporters on Tuesday when asked whether the political climate will change in the post-Trump era.
That's Biden's best strategy for combating Trump, six Democratic operatives told Insider this week.
"Ignore the nastiness," advised Lanny Davis, the longtime Democratic strategist who helped the Bill Clinton White House deal with scandal and investigations and more recently represented Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen during his criminal proceedings.
"The worst thing you can do with Trump is to ignore him," Davis added. "The way he's going to get his narcissism fed after he leaves the White House is by trying to bug and troll Joe Biden."
Engaging in personal attacks against Trump doesn't work for Biden, said Bill Daley, who served as President Barack Obama's chief of staff. He pointed to Biden and Trump's disastrous first debate in September, when both presidential candidates lobbed insults at each other for 90 minutes. Biden asked Trump to shut up and called him a clown while Trump took aim at Biden's intelligence.
That was a low moment for Biden, Daley said. But aside from that, the president-elect has been "very disciplined — and [has] taken on an enormous amount of s— from the president."
Democrats are gaming out the scenarios involving Trump lashing out at the incoming president.
"You can't exist in politics right now without accounting for Donald Trump," said Payne. "I'm sure there is a Trump strategy or a consideration of how to deal with that, but it behooves them to not let their presidency be swallowed up in Donald Trump reactionism."
Sometimes vice presidents are called in to fight messy battles so the president doesn't have to. Biden, for example, was deployed as Obama's attack dog during the 2012 presidential campaign against Mitt Romney.
Harris, a former prosecutor, was a fierce Trump critic on the campaign trail, but Democratic insiders expect that the White House will also want to keep her focused on the future rather than spending time feuding with the ex-president.
Enter the Democrats' political arm — the Democratic National Committee.
The DNC will probably want to ignore Trump, too, as much as they can. But they're poised to go on offense for Biden and the Democrats if needed. The DNC's "war room" operation was busy during the campaign piling up opposition research against Trump and running ads attacking his record on issues like the pandemic, immigration, and trade.
"We'll take Trump as seriously as any potential Republican candidate for 2024, but we're also ready to join the 80 million voters who have decided it's time to move on," the DNC's war room director Adrienne Watson told Insider this week.
Democratic super PACs are also ready to fight for Biden on the air waves or on social media.
"We're 100% ready to defend the Biden administration from Trump or any other Republican attacks," said Bradley Beychok, president of American Bridge 21st Century PAC.
"From our position the best defense is a good offense. So as soon as these Republicans and Trump and his sycophants come swinging, we just want to put them on notice that there will be no free shots."
Trump is hard to ignore
Democrats are anxious to brush Trump aside, but they can only do so much to dictate the narrative.
One major factor: how much coverage the ex-president gets in the mainstream press. News outlets have struggled from the start of his administration to cover a president who lies repeatedly to the press, personally attacks reporters, and continues to shatter political norms in Washington.
Ex-presidents typically don't get a ton of news coverage, but they've also usually tried to lay low and give their successor some time to get up and running without playing backseat driver.
But Trump is expected to keep up his attacks on Biden and Democrats, particularly if he launches a 2024 presidential campaign.
"I see no reason why he won't continue to be very active" on social media after Biden's inauguration, Sean Spicer, his former White House press secretary, told Insider.
Journalists will also have to decide how much coverage to devote to Trump, particularly if he's already a presidential candidate. Trump has also been a boon for the news industry. He told the New York Times in 2017: "Another reason that I'm going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I'm not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes."
Biden and his staff could also be confronted with questions about Trump and his comments by reporters in the White House briefing room or on Sunday talk shows.
"One unknown is how will the mainstream media deal with a post-Trump presidency," said Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist at Rokk Solutions. "Will they give weight to his accusations and his conspiracies?"
Another way Democrats want to limit Trump's influence is to "do the things he couldn't do," said Mollineau. That means getting the pandemic under control, getting people back to work and getting kids back to school.
'His time may be limited'
Trump could be the most visibly critical ex-president the country has ever seen.
Former presidents have traditionally taken off from Washington in a military helicopter on their successor's Inauguration Day and kept a low profile — at least for a while — in deference to the new guy.
But Trump isn't traditional. He hasn't even acknowledged Biden's win yet.
"What people are kind of wondering about is an ongoing stream of commentary" from Trump after he leaves office, said Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University. "It will become one more obstacle that President-elect Biden has to overcome."
Other ex-presidents have criticized their successors' decisions, including Obama, who called Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic an "absolute chaotic disaster."
But there's usually a grace period, and "limits to how much you say," Zelizer said. "And by all indications, those will be more norms that are not followed" by Trump.
The lame duck president appears to have little interest in laying low after he leaves office. He has reportedly told friends he wants to start a new digital media company, Axios reported last month.
There's also the possibility that Trump will announce as early as next month that he's running against Biden in 2024, adding more political heft to any comments he makes about the Biden presidency. If Trump were to win in 2024, he'd be only the second ex-president in US history to make a comeback after losing reelection. The first was Grover Cleveland.
Democrats will be watching closely to see how active Trump will be after he leaves office. After all, Trump could face criminal and civil investigations at the federal and state levels when he leaves office and loses the immunity that comes with being the chief executive of the United States.
"It's pretty clear Trump's not going to play by anybody's traditions or rules," said Beychock. "It's probably to be expected that he'll break all precedent because he craves the attention, and he'll want the money, and maybe he thinks that he'll build some leverage to get him out of some of the legal jams that he'll face."
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