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Senior official from President Biden's campaign weighs in on possible Trump rematch

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Alabama tonight, four Republican presidential hopefuls will take the stage for the last debate before next month's Iowa caucus. Former President Donald Trump has not been to any of these debates, and he's skipping this one too. Yesterday on the show, we had a preview of what the candidates are likely to say. And today, we're going to speak to a senior official from President Biden's reelection campaign. Principal Deputy Campaign Manager Quentin Fulks is in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

QUENTIN FULKS: Thank you, Ari. It's good to be with you today.

SHAPIRO: President Biden made some remarks to donors last night that have made an impact today. He was in the Boston area and said, quote, "if Trump wasn't running, I'm not sure I'd be running." Is Biden implying there that if Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley is the nominee, a different Democrat might be better suited to run against them?

FULKS: No. Look, this is nothing new, and the president has said this before. When he ran for president in 2020, it was because of the threat that Donald Trump posed to our democracy and, quite literally, the very fabric of our country - that the president promised to rebuild and restore the soul of this nation. You know, Ari, it is a little bit disheartening that we're, you know, having this when, at the same time yesterday, Donald Trump promised that he would rule as a dictator on Day 1. So if anything, I think that the president's comments were timely, as they underscore exactly what he's talking about, and the threat that, you know, we need to keep America moving forward and not turn it over to somebody who - promising to be a dictator.

SHAPIRO: You're saying this is kind of an echo of a debate that the country had four years ago. Does your campaign believe that if this is a Biden-Trump matchup, there are still undecided voters to be won over? Don't most people already know how they feel about these two candidates since they were both on the ballot in 2020?

FULKS: Look, our campaign doesn't take any voters for granted. And we understand that we have to do everything we need to do to communicate with voters in a very fractured media environment, to meet voters where they are, to talk to voters about what mattered to them. But we are building a campaign that's well beyond and up to the task to do just that. But at the end of the day, if it's a referendum between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, we are confident that American voters are going to turn out and vote for Joe Biden. We've seen it in 2020, saw it in 2022. We've seen it this year in 2023.

SHAPIRO: But as you think of the campaign strategy, you could be focused on motivating the base. You could be focused on access to the ballot. You could be focused on winning over undecided voters. I have a feeling you're going to say we're taking a both-and-all-of-the-above approach. But if it's a Biden-Trump matchup, do you believe there actually are undecided voters out there in large enough numbers to make a difference?

FULKS: You know, we have to rebuild the base and continue to do exactly what we did to turn out 81 million voters to vote for the president in 2020. This is not a - you know, monolithic audiences of people. And whatever constituency you, you know, put that label on, they're not monolithic, whether it be African American voters, whether it be women, whether it be young voters.

And so in 2020, you know, there was a global pandemic that Donald Trump quite literally had done nothing to help that cost the lives of a lot of Americans and, quite frankly, people around the world. Now we're in 2024. Our campaign can paint the contrast that, you know, Donald Trump would be a dictator if he was to regain power, that he would, you know, stand for the NRA, continue to brag about whipping away a woman's right to choose. But at the same time, we have an obligation to talk to American voters about what President Biden and Vice President Harris have done for them in the record of accomplishments, which we feel are plentiful.

SHAPIRO: I hear you saying this is a campaign of contrast, but also, as you acknowledge, the 2020 election was in some sense a referendum on the way Donald Trump handled the pandemic, the economy. And voters are dissatisfied with the way that President Biden has handled the economy in the last four years, despite the economic numbers that show many people are doing well in the United States. So what is your message to people who are unimpressed with the Biden track record of the last few years?

FULKS: Look, I mean, look, I think that we're - we don't get defensive and in a defensive posture about that. We understand that people are going through tough times. But, you know, you say that it was a referendum on, you know, Donald Trump and his leadership of COVID. There was a Democratic primary...

SHAPIRO: That's what you said. I was just echoing you.

FULKS: ...But - you mean, I answered it in the phrase of the question that you'd asked me. But in the - before that, before it was a matchup between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, there was a Democratic primary in which American voters voted to make Joe Biden the Democratic nominee. And the reason that they did that...

SHAPIRO: But the question is, for people who are dissatisfied with the Biden track record over the last few years, what is your message to them today?

FULKS: That the president is going to continue to double down and earn their support and continue to do everything he can to make life easier and more affordable for them. And that comes in stark contrast with the Republican Party and what they're putting forward, whether that's Donald Trump or not. And that's just on the economic front, right? They're trying to give tax breaks to the wealthy, big corporations, protecting gun rights groups while we are focused on doing the exact opposite and at a time where, you know, quite frankly, there is a lot of foreign policy stuff going on. There's economic stuff going on. We need a leader that has experience in doing that, and Joe Biden has that.

And so our campaign is going to continue to double down, communicate on what the president has done, try to draw that correlation and make sure that Americans know that the president is doing it and, honestly, continue to address other things that Americans are bringing to us day in and day out with what they feel about the direction of this country and try to address those as he and the Vice President promised they would do.

SHAPIRO: That's Quentin Fulks, principal deputy campaign manager for the Biden campaign, speaking with us from Tuscaloosa, Ala., where a Republican presidential debate is happening tonight. Thank you very much.

FULKS: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tyler Bartlam
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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