This was excerpted from the August 14 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
(CNN)American presidential candidates have been branded through the ages as pimps, crooks, accessories to rape and murder, drunks and even likened to a “hideous hermaphrodite.” But until now, no one has accused their rival of plotting to “hurt God” — as the hardly devout President Donald Trump claims of Joe Biden.
Sure, the US presidency is powerful, but quite how the Roman Catholic who wears his faith on his sleeve would go about wounding the Almighty is unclear. The charge does however show Trump’s increasing desperation to destroy Biden. The front-running Democrat wants to “take away your guns, destroy your Second Amendment, no religion, no anything. Hurt the Bible, hurt God. He’s against God, he’s against guns,” Trump ranted last week. In not so much a dog whistle as full throated racial scaremongering, he’s warning “the suburban housewife” — like some 1950s patriarch — that Biden wants low income neighbors (read: people of color) — to move in. Trump has now turned his ire on Biden’s new running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, suggesting with typical racial and gender allusions that she’s “angry,” the “meanest” senator, and “a mad woman.”It’s obvious what’s going on: He wants to scare independent and wavering Republican voters repulsed by his presidency, who are contemplating a once-in-a-lifetime punt for a Democrat. The tactic of branding Biden as a Trojan horse for raging Marxists could work with some voters, since negative politics can be a powerful tool in defining an opponent. And a Biden presidency would face tensions over the leftward march of his party.Read MoreBut Trump’s increasingly absurd caricatures may backfire. His grandfatherly opponent’s record is rich in vulnerabilities after 50 years in Washington, but Biden is no extremist. And during her assured debut on the Biden ticket, Harris didn’t look mad or angry — quite the reverse.Searing personal assaults usually work best when they exaggerate an existing vulnerability. Consider the Obama campaign’s claims that Mitt Romney was a corporate vulture in 2012, which hit home because the Republican’s starchy suits and consultant speak made him look like the man who “just fired your Dad,” as comedian John Oliver memorably put it.