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‘JOE-VER’: Trump team gloats over debate it views as knockout

The victory lap began before the debate was over.

Donald Trump’s aides had prepared for him to face the fiery President Biden who showed up to the State of the Union earlier this year. Instead, the former president faced a shaky opponent whose stumbles sent Democrats into a full-blown panic — and Trump largely held back from interrupting to let it all unfold, just as allies and advisers had urged.

Trump gave a thumbs-up later as he walked off the stage and into a green room full of advisers who believed they had a new — and devastating — trove of ammunition against Biden.

During a campaign rally in Chesapeake, Va., Trump gloated about his performance in the debate and mocked Biden.

“We had a big victory against a man that really is looking to destroy our country,” the former president said. “He got the debate rules that he wanted. He got the date that he wanted. He got the network that he wanted with the [moderators]. … No amount of rest or reading could help him defend his atrocious record.”

Republicans are elated and view the debate as an inflection point in a race where Trump’s team was already feeling bullish. As some Democrats raised the possibility of replacing Biden on the ticket, Trump aides and allies gloated and said it was too late. “IT’S SO JOE-VER,” one campaign email exulted as Trump prepared for his first post-debate rally Friday afternoon in Virginia, a state Biden won by 10 points four years ago but where some polling now shows a closer race.

Trump also weighed in at the rally on possible alternatives to Biden, musing about Vice President Harris and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), calling him “one of the worst governors.”

“Many people are saying that after last night’s performance that Joe Biden is leaving the race. But the fact is, I don’t really believe that because he does better in polls than any of the Democrats they’re talking about,” he said.

Trump said that Biden picking Harris as his vice president was his “single best decision … because nobody wants that.”

Trump also got another reason to celebrate Friday morning: The Supreme Court ruled that federal prosecutors improperly charged hundreds of defendants with obstruction in the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol. That decision disrupts many criminal cases stemming from a violent day that Biden has put at the center of his pitch against Trump. The former president praised the decision at the rally and declared they “should be immediately released.”

Still, Biden allies argued Trump had done himself no favors with his answers during the debate as he dodged questions about accepting the results of the election and declined to condemn the Jan. 6 riot. A flash poll by CNN, which hosted the debate, found that registered voters who watched the debate believed Trump won by a wide margin, but 81 percent also said it did not affect their choice in the race. Five percent said the debate changed their minds, while an additional 14 percent said they reconsidered but ultimately were not swayed in who they planned to vote for.

A Biden official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal numbers, said the hour after the debate — from 11 p.m. to midnight — was its single best hour of fundraising since the campaign’s launch last April and that the campaign raised $14 million on the day of the debate and the morning after.

But Republicans were jubilant. As Democrats chattered about how to move forward, Trump allies brushed aside the potential threat of a younger Democratic standard-bearer.

“Whether it’s Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer, it does not matter,” said Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), who was on-site as a Trump surrogate. “The agenda remains the same.”

A Biden adviser said Biden is “absolutely not” dropping out, has been counted out many times before and has proved his doubters wrong.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R), one of a few top contenders for Trump’s running mate, said the debate would boost a campaign that was already “on a roll.”

“I think what you’re going to see is donations flowing in. You’re going to see President Trump supercharged,” Burgum said.

Biden outraised Trump dramatically for months and used that war chest to build out a much bigger presence in battleground states. But Trump’s criminal conviction on May 30 changed the picture, firing up the GOP base and allowing Trump and the Republican National Committee to report more cash on hand than Biden and the Democratic National Committee in the latest financial disclosures.

Democrats hope their early spending on the ground will still be hard to match. But Republicans suddenly have more resources to invest — and now, a debate performance that fulfilled their greatest hopes.

“The debate was an incredible study in contrast between a guy who has the energy to be president and a guy who clearly doesn’t,” said Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), another leading contender to become Trump’s running mate.

Several potential vice-presidential candidates attended a debate fundraiser Thursday hosted by RNC chairman Michael Whatley and former senator Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.). They then watched the debate at a volleyball court on the Georgia Tech campus. Attendees included Burgum, Vance and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), according to a person familiar with the gathering who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it. Lara Trump, the RNC co-chair and Trump’s daughter-in-law, was there as well.

Harris defended Biden after the debate but acknowledged that he had “a slow start.” Biden presented “a very clear contrast with Donald Trump on all the issues that matter to the American people,” she said on CNN.

Trump advisers who had spent the lead-up to the debate attacking CNN as biased declared themselves pleased with how the network conducted the event.

As some Democrats assailed CNN for not fact-checking Trump’s false claims in real time, Chris LaCivita, a top Trump adviser, said he thought “CNN met the moment” and that the Trump campaign’s decision to accept CNN and the Biden campaign’s terms “worked out very well.”

During his rally Friday, Trump offered rare praise for CNN, saying the network “treated me very fairly last night,” before adding “they abused me for years.”

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) joined Trump on Friday at his rally in Chesapeake, a city that Biden won by about six points four years ago.

The Cook Political Report, which provides nonpartisan election analysis, rates Virginia as likely to go Democratic in the presidential race. But Trump has taken a bullish tone about Virginia as well as Democratic-leaning Minnesota. A recent Trump team memo said the campaign and national party are “in the process of securing leases” for 11 “initial” offices in Virginia and eight in Minnesota and “will have a variety of custom voter contact audiences built for both states” by the end of the month.

Democrats dismiss the Trump team’s moves as bluster. “If Trump wants to spend his time and money trying to campaign in blue states, be our guest,” said Biden campaign spokeswoman Caroline Stonecipher.

But they also say that from the beginning they have not taken the state for granted. Susan Swecker, the Virginia Democratic Party chair, said in an interview Thursday that five new offices for Democrats’ coordinated campaign have just opened in the state, bringing the total to 11. She said she can’t remember any presidential campaign coming in as early with resources as the Biden campaign has.

Some recent polls have shown Trump and Biden neck-and-neck in Virginia. Dave Wasserman, senior editor and elections analyst for the Cook Political Report, noted that surveys on the state are limited. Based on the state’s 2020 results and a national shift in the vote since then, it would make sense for Biden to have a small lead in Virginia, he said.

For now, he added, “everyone wants to be on offensive and convey an offensive posture” by pushing into challenging territory, even if other states are far more likely to decide the race. “If Virginia is competitive this fall, the election is already over in Trump’s favor,” Wasserman said.

Arnsdorf and Levine reported from Atlanta. Josh Dawsey and Nicole Markus in Washington contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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