When President BidenJoe BidenREAD: House Democrats’ mammoth COVID-19 relief bill House panel unveils .9T relief package Nunes lawsuit against CNN thrown out MORE appeared at a town hall with CNN’s Anderson Cooper this week, he declared that he was “tired of talking about Donald TrumpDonald TrumpUN report says Erik Prince violated arms embargo against Libya: report Lee after Romney’s impeachment vote: There’s enough room in GOP ‘for both of us’ Nunes lawsuit against CNN thrown out MORE” not once but twice.
“I don’t want to talk about him anymore,” he told Cooper at one point.
But a couple of minutes later, he was talking about Trump again.
“You may remember in one of my debates with the former president, I asked him to condemn the Proud Boys and he wouldn’t do it,” Biden said. “He said ‘Stand by, stand ready,’ or whatever the phrase exactly was.”
A month into his presidency, Biden has had a tough time shaking the ghost of Trump — even with the former president largely silenced by Twitter’s ban on his tweets.
In the first few weeks of Biden’s presidency, Trump’s impeachment trial loomed large, garnering much of the news cycles and headlines.
The trial was only a week, but it was the dominant story as the Senate considered arguments to acquit or convict Trump.
Even after it ended, there was a focus on the future of the post-Trump GOP, particularly as the former president traded blows with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: What’s next for Neera Tanden’s nomination The elephant in the room: Trump’s lingering power 17 state attorneys general call for canceling K in student loan debt MORE (R-Ky.).
Much of Biden’s agenda is also about rolling back Trump’s policies. On Friday, the U.S. formally rejoined the Paris climate accords that the U.S. exited under Trump. A day earlier, the Biden administration announced it was open to new talks with Iran after Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal spearheaded by former President Obama.
Democrats also rolled out an immigration reform proposal backed by Biden this week that is a 180-degree turn from the Trump years.
It all makes Trump difficult to escape even when his all-caps tweets aren’t making headlines on their own. And it perhaps explains some of Biden’s evident frustration during the interview with Cooper.
“It’s kind of like when you wake up from a horrible nightmare,” said one Democrat close to the Biden White House. “You wake up but you’re still haunted by it the next day and maybe the next day after that.”
“And this is worse. It was a nightmare for so many of us for four years. So of course it’s going to linger for a while because it’s a tough thing to get over and because we’re trying to undo so much of the shit he did for four years,” the Democrat added. “That takes time.”
Trump was also central to Biden’s presidential campaign. If it hadn’t been for Trump, Biden wouldn’t have run for president and his political career may have ended after 2016.
“President Biden ran against everything Donald Trump did while in office and everything he stood for,” said Tobe Berkovitz, a communications professor at Boston University who has served as a political consultant. “It will be a challenge to pivot away from this line of communication.”
There are risks to Biden talking about Trump too much, just as there are risks for any president focused on their predecessor.
Trump was criticized for being focused on erasing Obama’s legacy to the detriment of his own agenda.
Similarly, Republicans sought to hammer Obama for blaming a laggard economy on his predecessor, former President George W. Bush.
Berkovitz said Trump “shouldn’t loom over Biden’s presidency,” but acknowledged the difficult balancing act.
“Biden should be doing everything he can to put some distance between his White House and Trump’s policies and Trump’s White House,” he said. “But it’s tough to go cold turkey.”
Appearing at the National Institutes of Health earlier this month, Biden went after Trump over his handling of COVID-19, saying he failed to set up adequate vaccination supplies.
“While scientists did their job in discovering vaccines in record time, my predecessor — I’ll be very blunt about it— did not do his job in getting ready for the massive challenge of vaccinating hundreds of millions,” Biden said in remarks at the NIH. “He did not order enough vaccines. … It was a big mess. It’s going to take time to fix.”
Vice President Harris has also invoked Trump’s name when talking about the vaccine challenges, saying his administration left no national strategy.
“In many ways, we are starting from scratch on something that’s been raging for almost an entire year,” she told Axios on HBO.
Trump can of course be a benefit to Biden, too, by playing the foil.
“I have always believed that Biden benefits from the chaos of Donald Trump,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “Biden’s decency and relative calm vis a vis Trump is a political benefit for the President and his team.”
Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons agreed.
“I don’t know if they wanted it but I bet they don’t mind it right now,” Simmons said. “As much as he reminds us how much of a whirlwind there was during the Trump White House and shows that contrast, it works in his favor.”
At the same time, many see Trump’s absence from Twitter as benefitting Biden.
Trump tiptoed back into the spotlight this week with interviews on Fox News and other cable networks after the death of conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.
But that wasn’t anything like Trump’s formerly-ever-present Twitter account.
“There’s been a huge difference,” said David Litt, who served as a speechwriter to former President Obama. “It’s really remarkable to see how much the landscape has changed. If Trump was still on Twitter, the political press would be required to write about it all and it would create pressure on Biden to respond.
“A Twitter-less Trump does put the Biden team in a much better position,” Litt added.