WASHINGTON — Donald Trump still hasn't said whether he will show up for the first Republican primary debate in Milwaukee next week, but Democrats plan to be there and talk about the former president either way.
President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign will have a significant presence on the ground and on the airwaves, according to plans top officials shared exclusively with NBC News. The Democrats' message will be simple: Regardless of whether Trump participates, the rest of the GOP field has already embraced his worldview.
In a statement, campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez said she believes the showdown “will put on display just how extreme and out of touch the Republican candidates are with the American people.”
“The 2024 Republican primary is a race for the MAGA base, not an effort to earn the support of the voters they’ll need to win in November 2024 — and our campaign will be making that stark contrast and the important choice before voters very clear,” Chávez Rodriguez said.
Contested primaries to challenge sitting presidents give the party that is out of power more airtime to go on the attack against an incumbent. While the Republicans on Wednesday night's debate stage will be competing against one another, it's likely that most of their criticism will be focused on Biden. Letting the criticism go unanswered, particularly in an important swing state like Wisconsin, risks letting the Republicans make their case without pushback.
On Wednesday, the day of the debate, Biden's team will start running its third major paid media buy of the re-election cycle in key battleground states, including the first ads targeting Hispanic and Black media, the campaign said.
In addition, Biden campaign co-chair Cedric Richmond and DNC Chair Jamie Harrison will be in Milwaukee to speak directly with the media.
“Next week, the American people will be introduced to the most extreme slate of presidential candidates in history. Candidates will take to the stage to out-MAGA each other, and we will ensure that every American knows that,” Harrison said in a statement, pointing out issues like abortion access and entitlement spending as two areas in which Democrats will seek to compare their positions with Republicans’.
The DNC will roll out a billboard campaign in the city “contrasting the MAGA agenda with Biden’s record,” including a billboard truck that will circle the venue as the GOP candidates take the stage.
Back in Washington, a joint "war room" of the Biden campaign and the DNC will offer rapid response throughout the night.
Privately, Biden campaign officials expect Trump to be the nominee, but they have built a strategy that seeks to convince general election voters that the whole GOP field is made up of “extreme MAGA Republicans.”
Ahead of the debate, the Biden campaign says, thousands of volunteers will participate in a training session Saturday, hoping to capitalize on the organizing potential around the event.
After Trump won Wisconsin in 2016, Biden’s 2020 operation focused heavily on the state, and he was able to win it four years later.
Biden traveled to Milwaukee this week to highlight the first anniversary of his signing the Inflation Reduction Act into law and to make the case that his economic plans are improving people’s lives.
“I’m not here to declare victory on the economy. We’re not there yet. We have more work to do. But we’ve always had a plan,” he said at a factory.
Despite major legislative accomplishments, some polls show that many Americans don’t know very much about what Biden has done in office when it comes to the economy and climate change.
But Biden officials say that there may be a lag before people feel or understand the impact of the laws and that they’re betting that will come before November of next year. And they believe 2024, based on Democrats’ better-than-expected performance in the 2022 midterms, will turn out to be a choice election, not a referendum.
“This election is going to be a choice between President Biden and Vice President Harris who are leading the fight to protect the fundamental freedoms that Americans cherish and the MAGA extremists running for the Republican nomination who want to roll back all of the progress we’ve made,” Chávez Rodriguez wrote in a memo to top donors last week.
“Coming off of the best midterm for a sitting Democratic president since FDR and historic Democratic overperformance in 2023, we will do it again in 2024,” she wrote.