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Biden puts Trump at the center of his message

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Joe Biden
Former vice president Joe Biden talks with officials after speaking at a rally in support of striking Stop & Shop workers in Boston on April 18, 2019.Michael Dwyer / AP file

WASHINGTON — The Democratic 2020 field is now mostly set, with former Vice President Joe Biden’s official entry into the presidential race.

And he puts his opposition to President Trump — not policies, not the future, not hope and change — at the center of his announcement message.

“We are in a battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden says in his announcement video, seizing on the 2017 violence in Charlottesville and the president’s “fine people on both sides” remark.

“I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time,” he adds.

“But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation. Who we are. And I cannot stand by and watch that happen.”

Focusing directly on Trump is a departure from many of the Democratic 2018 midterm campaigns, which wanted to turn attention to issues like health care – with the idea that Trump was already baked into the cake for most voters.

Biden here also casts Trump as an “aberrant” figure – rather than as a symptom of today’s modern GOP.

“Biden centers Trump in his messaging more than any other post-Hillary Dem,” the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel observes. “Other Dems talk about Trumpism growing out of policy failure. Biden describes one aberrant leader who must be replaced.”

Of course, if you’re Biden, this is the believable rationale for his candidacy. He’s never going to be the ideas candidate. Or the hope and change guy.

Bottom line: With this announcement, Biden makes clear that his 2020 aim is an Obama-Biden restoration.

But as we wrote yesterday, vice presidents running as third terms or as restoration figures don’t necessarily have the math on their side.

Since World War II, only two of the six full-term vice presidents who have tried have gone on to win the presidency.

And both victories – Nixon in 1968, George HW Bush in 1988 – were on the Republican side.

Oh, and one other thing: There’s a downside to directly taking on Trump – he’ll respond back.

Just ask Elizabeth Warren (who hasn’t directly challenged Trump since that DNA video).

Tweet of the day

Biden’s three message pillars

Importantly, Biden’s “battle for the soul of this nation” message aimed at Trump is just the FIRST pillar of the former vice president’s rollout, NBC’s Mike Memoli notes.

Pillar No. 2: rebuilding an inclusive middle class, which he’ll focus on during his public event Monday in Pittsburgh.

Pillar No. 3: bridging the country’s divides, which he’ll discuss at his May 18 rally in Philadelphia.

2020 Vision: Four ways Biden’s candidacy will play out

We see four scenarios for Biden’s presidential campaign during this primary process, and all of them are realistic:

  1. Jeb Bush of 2016: He flames out, despite his name ID and money. Primary voters just don’t buy his message.
  2. John Kerry of 2004: He grinds it out, has other fresher candidates take him over before voters come back to him in the end.
  3. Hillary of 2008: He begins as the frontrunner, but gets overtaken by a younger, fresher candidate.
  4. Hillary of 2016: He remains the frontrunner throughout, although might get a scare here or there.

On the campaign trail today: Elizabeth Warren and Seth Moulton campaign in Iowa… Beto O’Rourke makes a swing through Nevada… Cory Booker hits South Carolina… And Bernie Sanders holds a rally in Fort Worth, Texas.

Trump campaign left itself wide open to the Russians

That’s the conclusion, NBC’s Ken Dilanian and Tom Winter write, from former intelligence officials and experts after reading the Mueller report.

“Former FBI and CIA officials and people who study Russian intelligence say the report describes a counterintelligence minefield — senior members of a presidential campaign and transition holding secret talks with a sophisticated foreign adversary, without the benefit of State Department and intelligence community counsel.”

"The Russians came up against a group of people who were not intelligence savvy and who were predisposed not to listen to the intelligence and counterintelligence community," Luis Rueda, a former CIA operations officer, told Dilanian and Winter.

Rueda added, "The Russians made a very bold and aggressive attempt to take advantage of that — to try to compromise people, to try to leverage their access."

Data Download: The number of the day is … 83 percent

Eighty-three percent.

That's the share of voters who say that "behavior that used to be seen as unacceptable is now accepted as normal behavior," according to a Georgetown Institute of Politics Battleground Poll.

The poll also found other sobering news about division in the country, including this:

"When asked to rank the level of political division in our country (with “0” meaning no political division in the country, and “100” meaning political division on the edge of civil war), the mean response was 70.8 and the most common response was 75."

The Lid: Meet Pete

Don't miss the pod from yesterday, when special guest star Alex Seitz-Wald offered a look at just how Pete Buttigieg became "Mayor Pete."

ICYMI: News clips you shouldn’t miss

Unions are getting ready to go big on Biden.

Some women of color are frustrated with the Biden buzz, AP writes.

The Washington Post notes that Bernie Sanders took some heat at the She the People conference yesterday.

Cory Booker released his tax returns.

Harry Reid says that Democrats can't "afford" impeachment.

Vladimir Putin is meeting with Kim Jong Un.

Other stories out there…

Trump agenda: The Great Subpoena War

Trump is going to war with Congress over subpoenas. Critics say he's abusing his power to the point of goading Democrats into an impeachment push.

The White House says it's targeting nations with high rates of visa overstays. But that doesn't ultimately account for a lot of people.

Trump is defending his response to the opioid crisis.

2020: Pete gets his first congressional endorsement

Virginia Rep. Don Beyer is endorsing Pete Buttigieg — the mayor's first congressional endorsement.

The New York Times: "The Democratic Party has changed. Does Mr. Biden's brand still hold up?"

The AP looks at the "woke litmus test" that white male candidates are facing.