Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images

From the Center

Because of the interminable length of a presidential campaign, few well-adjusted voters follow the candidates’ activities on a daily basis over the months (or years) leading up to the election. For those who have other and better ways of spending their time, there are occasionally days that can accurately sum up the state of the campaign with sufficient accuracy to provide a reliable overview of the state of the race.

Last Thursday, June 13, was such a day. Donald Trump was in Washington, DC, meeting with congressional Republicans and business leaders. Joe Biden was in Italy for the first day of the Group of 7 gathering of several of the world’s largest democracies. By the time the two men went to sleep in their respective time zones, they had successfully encapsulated why and how we have found ourselves in the middle of such a closely-fought, overly-exhausting, but seemingly frozen-in-place campaign to date.

As usual, Trump was more interesting, more controversial, more inspirational and more infuriating. He began the day by telling the House GOP caucus that Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the host of next month’s Republican National Convention, was a “horrible city” and ruminating about the possibility of a romantic relationship with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. By midday, Wisconsin’s House Republicans, the state and national parties, and his own campaign were offering a range of explanations about his insult of the most populated city in one of the nation’s most important swing states, while the Democratic National Committee was erecting billboards throughout the Brew City metropolitan area with Trump’s photo and quote.

Left almost unnoticed was Trump’s announcement that afternoon to the Business Roundtable that he would like to replace the U.S. income tax with an “all tariff policy” that would increase levies on foreign imports. Such a step would represent the most dramatic transformation of American fiscal and economic policy in over 100 years. 

Meanwhile, Biden attended a two-day conference with his colleagues from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. They negotiated a path forward on their joint support for Ukraine, navigated through their differences on Gaza, presented a united front on dealings with China, and discussed the need for further global cooperation on climate change, artificial intelligence and immigration policy. 

Most of this was all but ignored by the American public. The most prevalent domestic media coverage of Biden’s trip instead centered around misleadingly edited video coverage that suggested the president had wandered away from the other leaders, reinforcing widespread concern among voters about his age and acuity.

Biden’s overarching message for the global leaders and their constituents was an implied warning about Trump’s potential return to office. He proclaimed the benefits of American leadership on the world stage and hailed the benefits of continued cooperation between the U.S. and its partners. But his attempts to reassure his colleagues were overshadowed by the prospect of a Trump victory in November and the return of his predecessor’s inclination toward nationalism and confrontation. Trump’s name was not mentioned, but his presence was everywhere.

The G7 meeting also served as a reminder that the angry conservative populism that has animated Trump’s resurgence and threatens Biden’s re-election is not unique to this country. With the exception of host Giorgia Meloni of Italy, every one of the other leaders attending the summit is facing political problems at home that are as bad as Biden’s or worse. The chastened leaders of France and Germany had been embarrassed by defeats at the hands of right-leaning opponents in the previous weekend’s elections. And Biden’s high 30s approval ratings are actually the highest of any of the attendees, with the exception of Meloni, who herself represents the conservative grassroots of her country.

What did we learn on this day? Trump still possesses an uncanny instinct for dominating news coverage with bluster, defiance and brinkmanship, and an unsurpassed ability for motivating his own supporters and angering his foes. Biden believes that a traditional approach to the presidency that highlights his commitment to national and global norms, international alliances and steadfast leadership represents his path to re-election, even if the voters are focused more on his age and his opponent. And that the resentments and anger that fueled Trump’s rise eight years ago represent passions that run much deeper than these two men – and they are not going away anytime soon.

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Dan Schnur is a Professor at the University of California – Berkeley, Pepperdine University, and the University of Southern California, where he teaches courses in politics, communications and leadership. Dan is a No Party Preference voter, but previously worked on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns, serving as the national Director of Communications for the 2000 presidential campaign of U.S. Senator John McCain and the chief media spokesman for California Governor Pete Wilson. He has a Center bias.

This piece was reviewed and edited by Clare Ashcraft, Bridging & Bias Specialist (Center bias).

Photo Credit: Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images