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Dems Debate How to Hit Economy, Crisis 04/09 06:18

   Democrats are wrestling over how best to assail President Donald Trump for 
his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy's shutdown, even as 
the country lurches into an unpredictable campaign season during its most 
devastating crisis in decades. 

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats are wrestling over how best to assail President 
Donald Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy's 
shutdown, even as the country lurches into an unpredictable campaign season 
during its most devastating crisis in decades. 

   Trump has provided Democrats with plenty of political fodder, including 
leading a slow-footed federal response to an outbreak that has caused profound 
economic, health and social disruption. Democrats are already using reams of 
video of Trump denying and playing down a crisis now killing hundreds of 
Americans daily, erasing millions of jobs and closing countless businesses. 

   Underscoring a Democratic consensus that Trump's own words will be a potent 
weapon, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said: "Donald Trump does have the biggest 
bully pulpit. But fortunately for Democrats, Donald Trump has the biggest bully 
pulpit." 

   Yet seven months from Election Day, Democrats have not matched the attention 
Trump can command with daily, nationally televised briefings that can exceed 
two hours. 

   And they're juggling conflicting instincts: attack Trump aggressively now 
and risk accusations of using a catastrophe for political reasons, or wait 
until society starts returning to normal. That might give him time to define 
himself as a wartime president battling a virus that's enveloped the globe. 

   "There has been gross incompetence" by Trump and that's "a huge 
vulnerability," said Jim Margolis, a leading Democratic communications 
consultant. "But Democrats must take care not to gratuitously attack the 
administration or look like they are playing politics with a crisis."

   "A purely partisan attack is inappropriate for the times we're in," said 
former Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who once headed House Democrats' campaign 
organization. 

   Both approaches --- strike vigorously now or later --- are being tested in 
real time. 

   Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential 
nominee, has faulted Trump's response. But he's avoided the sharpest attacks 
while trying to project an image as a steady, experienced crisis manager. 

   "He's the commander in chief --- it's time he steps up, takes 
responsibility, and does his job," Biden tweeted Wednesday. His path to the 
nomination cleared hours earlier when his only viable rival,  Sen. Bernie 
Sanders, I-Vt., dropped out.

   Congressional leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate 
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Democratic governors like New York's 
Andrew Cuomo and Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer have tangled with Trump. But 
they've mostly stressed  legislation  and other steps they're taking to bolster 
the economy and the overwhelmed health care system. 

   They've also presented themselves as calming alternatives to Trump, whose 
briefings have been marred by false and confusing assertions that contradict 
public health professionals' views and angry outbursts at reporters whose 
questions he dislikes.

   "This moment is exactly wrong for President Trump because he can't distract 
people from a pandemic with a provocative tweet," said Sen. Brian Schatz, 
D-Hawaii.

   Yet at the same time, Democratic political groups are spending millions on 
television and digital ads that pull few punches. 

   "Crisis comes to every president. This one failed," says one spot by Unite 
the Country, a political committee backing Biden. As red circles dotting a U.S. 
map ominously expand, the announcer says Trump "let the virus spread unchecked 
across America."

   "Perception can get baked in very quickly," said Tara McGowan, who leads 
PACRONYM, an anti-Trump political committee. "You simply can't afford to wait."

   The array of voices delivering Democrats' messages has reflected the party's 
lack of an undisputed leader before Biden formally clinches the nomination.

   "It's really going to have to be an all hands on deck approach," said Guy 
Cecil, who heads Priorities USA, the largest Democratic outside political group.

   Democrats' efforts to enter the spotlight have been complicated by the 
nation's lockdown, which has prevented public rallies and interactions with 
voters that are normally the lifeblood of politics. 

   "Trump's press conferences blot out the sun," said Adam Jentleson, a 
Democratic strategist.

   Trump has noticed. He tweeted that "Radical Left Democrats have gone 
absolutely crazy" over his daily briefings and boasted of "'Monday Night 
Football, Bachelor Finale' type" ratings.

   Republicans say Democratic attacks now would be ineffective, with voters 
concentrating on keeping their families safe. "People are hungering for 
official information as opposed to a partisan response," said GOP pollster 
Patrick Ruffini. 

   Other Republicans see big vulnerabilities for Trump.

   "If this is a war, it's hard to spin a war," said long-time GOP consultant 
Stuart Stevens, a Trump opponent. "There are body counts. And what are you 
going to do with these unemployment numbers?"

   After a slow start that concerned many Democrats, Biden has asserted a more 
visible role with television interviews, virtual town halls, podcasts and 
newspaper columns that describe his prescriptions for a recovery, such as 
accelerated aid for the jobless and small businesses.

   Biden aides said his approach balances holding Trump accountable while 
making specific policy recommendations. They said it also lets him display the 
empathy that's been part of his public persona ever since his wife and daughter 
were killed in an auto accident shortly after his 1972 election to the Senate. 

   Still, Democrats' quandary over finding a messaging balance has fueled 
countless conversations within the party. More than 100 groups, from the 
AFL-CIO to Public Citizen, hold thrice-weekly conference calls to share 
research and strategy, said Leslie Dach, who runs the Protect Our Care 
Coalition, which hosts the calls along with the Center for American Progress.

   "It's a moment to double down, but we have to do that in a surgical way, not 
a jackhammer on his head," said Bradley Beychok, president of American Bridge. 

   For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such 
as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially 
older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe 
illness, including pneumonia, and death.


(KR)

 
 
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