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'Rebuild the base': How the Biden campaign will tackle a possible Trump rematch

Then presidential candidate Joe Biden waves to supporters as he finishes speaking during a drive-in campaign rally in Georgia in 2020.
Drew Angerer
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Getty Images
Then presidential candidate Joe Biden waves to supporters as he finishes speaking during a drive-in campaign rally in Georgia in 2020.

Wednesday night in Alabama, four Republican presidential hopefuls took the stage for the last debate before next month's Iowa caucuses.

Former President Donald Trump has not been to any of these debates, and he skipped this one too.

Despite his absence, some poll numbers are showing that the 2024 election may be a repeat faceoff between Trump and President Biden.

So where does that leave Biden's reelection campaign? And how does this impact its ultimate goal of maintaining Biden's seat in the Oval Office?

Biden's principal deputy campaign manager, Quentin Fulks, spoke to All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro on Wednesday to discuss the campaign's strategy for Trump and how they plan to win over voters once again.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


Interview highlights

Ari Shapiro: Biden made some remarks to donors that have made an impact. Tuesday he was in the Boston area and said, "If Trump wasn't running, I'm not sure I'd be running."

Is Biden implying there that if Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley is the nominee, a different Democrat might be better suited to run against them?

Quentin Fulks: No, look, this is nothing new. And the president has said this before, when he ran for president in 2020.

It was because of the threat that Donald Trump posed to our democracy and quite literally the very fabric of our country that the president promised to rebuild and restore the soul of this nation.

You know, Ari, it is a little bit disheartening that we're having this [discussion] when at the same time Tuesday, Donald Trump promised that he would rule as a dictator on Day 1.

So if anything, I think that the president's comments were timely, as they underscore exactly what he's talking about, and the threat that, we need to keep America moving forward and not turn it over to somebody who's promising to be a dictator.

Shapiro: You're saying this is kind of an echo of a debate that the country had four years ago. Does your campaign believe that if this is a Biden-Trump matchup, there are still undecided voters to be won over? Don't most people already know how they feel about these two candidates since they were both on the ballot in 2020?

Fulks: Look, our campaign doesn't take any voters for granted, and we understand that we have to do everything we need to do to communicate with voters in a very fractured media environment, to meet voters where they are, to talk to voters about what matters to them.

But we are building a campaign that's well beyond and up to the task to do just that.

But at the end of the day, if it's a referendum between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, we're confident that American voters are going to turn out and vote for Joe Biden. We've seen it in 2020. We saw it in 2022. We've seen it this year in 2023.


Listen to All Things Considered each day here or on your local member station for more interviews like this.


Shapiro: But as you think of the campaign strategy, you could be focused on motivating the base. You could be focused on access to the ballot. You could be focused on winning over undecided voters.

I have a feeling you're going to say, "We're taking a both and all-of-the-above approach." If it's a Biden-Trump matchup, do you believe there actually are undecided voters out there in large enough numbers to make a difference?

Fulks: We have to rebuild the base and continue to do exactly what we did to turn out 81 million voters to vote for the president in 2020.

This is not a monolithic audience as a people. And whatever constituency you put that label on, they're not monolithic, whether it be African American voters, whether it be women, whether it be young voters.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Dec. 2.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Ankeny, Iowa, on Dec. 2.

And so in 2020, there was a global pandemic that Donald Trump quite literally had done nothing to help, that cost the lives of a lot of Americans and, quite frankly, people around the world.

Now we're in 2024. Our campaign can paint the contrast that Donald Trump would be a dictator if he was to regain power, that he would stand for the NRA, continue to brag about whipping away a woman's right to choose.

But at the same time, we have an obligation to talk to American voters about what President Biden and Vice President Harris have done for them in the record of accomplishments which we feel are plentiful.

Shapiro: I hear you saying this is a campaign of contrasts, but also, as you acknowledged, the 2020 election was in some sense a referendum on the way Donald Trump handled the pandemic, the economy.

And voters are dissatisfied with the way that President Biden has handled the economy in the last four years, despite the economic numbers that show many people are doing well in the United States. So what is your message to people who are unimpressed with the Biden track record of the last few years?

Fulks: The president is going to continue to double down and earn their support and continue to do everything he can to make life easier and more affordable for them. And that comes in stark contrast with the Republican Party and what they're putting forward, whether that's Donald Trump or not. And that's just on the economic front.

They're trying to give tax breaks to the wealthy, big corporations, protecting gun rights groups, while we are focused on doing the exact opposite.

And at a time where there is a lot of foreign policy stuff going on, there's economic stuff going on. We need a leader that has experience in doing that.

And Joe Biden has that. And so our campaign is going to continue to double down, communicate on what the president has done, try to draw that correlation and make sure that Americans know that the president's doing it, and honestly continue to address other things that Americans are bringing to us day in and day out, with what they feel about the direction of this country, and try to address those, as he and the vice president promised they would do.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tyler Bartlam
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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