When Trump gets dark, Biden goes light

What their campaign emails say about Joe Biden and Donald Trump

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 20, 2024 5:45AM (EDT)

Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Joe Biden and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s fundraising emails and other communications show that he and his propagandists are masters of what I have termed “horror politics.” Ultimately, Trump’s horror politics strategy is designed to terrify his MAGA people and other followers into supporting him as their savior and protector. Because Trump is ruled by an obsessive need for power and adoration, the support he seeks takes the form of lots of money from his followers, their undying loyalty to him, and voting him back into the White House where, as promised, he will become the country’s first dictator.

Trump’s fundraising emails and other communications are weapons in a struggle over emotions, information, the political battlefield, and the future of the country and its democracy and society.

In this political battlespace, how are President Biden and his campaign responding and maneuvering?

As seen with President Biden and his campaign’s fundraising emails, he is communicating a constant message of steady and responsible leadership. Biden's image is of a leader who fundamentally believes in the American project and its democratic institutions. Joe Biden is a fundamentally decent person who loves America and he and his strategists are making that the centerpiece of his re-election campaign.

In what is almost an act of self-parody of the folksy grandfather, President Biden has even gone so far as to invite some of the everyday people who donate money to his campaign to an ice cream social with him and First Lady Jill Biden. President Obama is also helping his successor and friend by inviting one lucky donor via email to a special dinner:

Hey there, it's Barack Obama.

You know how I feel: Reelecting my friends Joe and Kamala is reason enough to pitch in a few bucks. But today, we're sweetening the deal.

Any supporter who donates to this email will have a chance to join me and President Biden in Los Angeles, California.

Oh, and a couple of A-list movie stars will be there, too: George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

You read that right. Joe, George, Julia, and I want to meet one lucky supporter (and their guest) in Hollywood. You don’t want to miss out on this. Chip in $25 to Team Biden-Harris right now to be automatically entered to win this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

President Biden was even more folksy and nostalgic in this fundraising email his campaign recently sent out in which he invoked his beloved grandfather:

Folks — One thing my grandpop used to say is "Joey, nobody is more worthy than you, and everybody is your equal," and it still resonates with me.

When I wake up in the morning and shut my eyes at night I'm thinking about ways to fight for the American people, to protect fundamental rights, and to defend our democracy.

Many of Biden's fundraising emails are just so…. nice (one even included two cute drawings of the sun). It is highly doubtful that being nice will defeat Trumpism and the MAGA movement.

A review of the Biden fundraising and other campaign emails I have received these last few weeks does show some increased urgency about the existential threat that Donald Trump and the MAGA movement represent to American society. However, even this increased level of urgency is rather uninspired and uninteresting. For example, one fundraising email featured an embedded gif of President Biden that looks like a bad hologram or an effort to communicate from another dimension.

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President Biden and his campaign strategists are now taking Donald Trump to task for his support of Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, who shot her family dog, a puppy, to death and then, like a serial killer in training, bragged about the heinous act in her new book.

President Biden’s campaign sent out this email last week:

Trump Defends Kristi Noem’s Puppy Killing

At the Biden campaign, we are proudly anti-puppy killing

On the same day Joe Biden stood up for American workers, Donald Trump chose to take a break from visiting freshman pledges and his personal issues to give an interview to the Clay and Buck Show. 

On Kristi Noem’s puppy execution (which she has doubled down on), Trump had this to say:

“Until this week, she was doing incredibly well and she got hit hard and sometimes you do books and you have some guy writing a book and you maybe don't read it as carefully. You have ghost writers… No, she's terrific. Look, she's been a supporter of mine from day one. She did a great job as Governor… the dog story, you know, people hear that and people from different parts of the country probably feel a little bit differently, but that's a tough story and– but she's a terrific person.”

The following is a statement from Biden-Harris 2024 Spokesperson James Singer:

“At the Biden campaign, we are proudly anti-puppy-killing and don’t think those who murder puppies are ‘terrific.’”

Fundraising emails target existing supporters and those who the campaign believes are persuadable. Most voters will not be moved by this messaging or even be exposed to it. Only a small number of people who receive emails will donate. In terms of money raised, Biden’s fundraising has been much more effective than Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s. However, these fundraising emails reflect the larger campaign strategy and the type of story each candidate and their surrogates are trying to tell the American people.

Whose supporters appear to be more energized? 

Donald Trump’s hush money and other criminal trials were supposed to significantly blunt and weaken his support. That has not yet happened.

Polls continue to show a virtual tie between President Biden and Donald Trump. In what should be a serious warning for President Biden, public opinion polls have consistently shown that he is losing in the key battleground states. Even more concerning for President Biden and the Democrats is how new public opinion research shows that there is a lack of support for Biden specifically, and not for the Democratic Party’s other candidates.

In a new essay at The American Prospect, Harold Meyerson explains:

The chief effect of The New York Times’ release yesterday of its latest swing-state poll has been to raise Democrats’ already high anxiety levels about their presumptive presidential nominee. Not about his achievements in office or his policies; the support for those is evident in voters’ support for down-ticket Democrats who’ve consistently voted to approve Joe Biden’s legislative initiatives. If this fish stinks, it’s only at the head.

What the Times/Siena poll of seven swing states made clear was that every Democratic senator up for re-election in those states had a clear lead over their Republican opponents, while the president was trailing Trump in six of those seven.

It’s among those groups of Americans who’ve long been part of the Democratic base—Blacks, Latinos, and the young—that Biden has hemorrhaged support. These groups make up a disproportionate share of the financially strapped, which highlights the need for Biden to highlight much more than he has his initiatives to bring down the costs of medicines and the junk fees that corporations inflict on consumers.

And yet these are themes that Biden regularly sounds. Part of his problem is that this message has yet to penetrate to low-information voters. But part of his problem is also that he’s frequently on mute, stepping on his own delivery, coming across predominantly as old. As a result, the quantity of his public announcements is restricted by his handlers’ concern for the quality of them.

As his campaign emails show, Biden’s messaging needs to improve. If the 2024 election is truly an existential one for the future of American democracy – a theme that President Biden and his spokespeople and surrogates are emphasizing – Biden’s fundraising and other communications need to have the energy and powerful narrative that such a reality demands.

In an excellent new essay at the New York Times, political scientist Stephen Fish highlights how the Democratic Party and its leaders’ communication and leadership styles put them at a marked disadvantage in a battle with Donald Trump, the Republican Party and the neofascist movement:

Psychologists have noted the effectiveness of dominance in elections and governing. My recent research also finds that what I call Mr. Trump’s “high-dominance strategy” is far and away his most formidable asset.

High-dominance leaders shape reality. They embrace conflict, chafe at playing defense and exhibit self-assurance even in pursuit of unpopular goals. By contrast, low-dominance leaders accept reality as it is and shun conflict. They tell people what they think they want to hear and prefer mollification to confrontation.

Today’s Republicans are all about dominance. They embrace us-versus-them framing, double down on controversial statements and take risks. Today’s Democrats often recoil from “othering” opponents and back down after ruffling feathers. They have grown obsessively risk-averse, poll-driven, allergic to engaging on hot-button issues (except perhaps abortion) — and more than a little boring….

Fish continues:

Politicians’ language reflects their dominance orientations. Mr. Trump uses entertaining and provocative parlance and calls opponents — and even allies — weak, gutless and pathetic. Still, neuroscientists monitoring listeners’ brain activity while they watched televised debates found that audiences — not just Mr. Trump’s followers — delighted in the belittling nicknames he uses for his opponents. His boldness and provocations held audience attention at a much higher level than his opponents’ play-it-safe recitations of their policy stances and résumés.

Mr. Trump is also often crude and regularly injects falsehoods into his comments. But these are not in and of themselves signs of dominance; it’s just that the Democrats’ inability to effectively respond makes them appear weak by comparison.

One can reasonably describe Donald Trump and his MAGA fascist movement as one of the worst things to ever happen to the United States (these are actually self-inflicted wounds). In addition, one can focus in on Donald Trump, both the man and the symbol, as having no redeeming qualities and as embodying almost everything wrong with American society. As I have repeatedly warned (and will continue to) in my more than eight years of writing about the Trumpocene and the larger democracy crisis: sick societies produce sick leaders – and American society and Donald Trump are very sick, indeed.

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With all that having been noted, one cannot say that Trump (and by extension the larger right-wing propaganda disinformation machine) is not a compelling storyteller for his followers and supporters – and apparently, per the polls, a not insignificant number of other Americans as well.

As I am writing this essay, Donald Trump’s campaign sent out another fundraising email:

I will always love you…

Please read the letter I wrote last night!

NOW is the time to help me SAVE AMERICA

You are truly a special Patriot, and I really mean that.

You are the only reason I’m still running for President!

They’ve thrown everything at me: Hoaxes, Witch Hunts, Impeachments, Indictments, Raids, and ARRESTS!

But you never left my side. NOT EVER!

So this letter goes out to every single member of the MAGA Movement…


Earlier today, Trump sent out this fundraising email:

Friend, before I do anything else, I had to get this off my chest:


Watching Crooked Joe Biden destroy our country makes me SICK.

I’m stuck in courtrooms, enduring WITCH HUNTS, and every day I see the Fake News push LIES AFTER LIES AFTER LIES!

But it’s people like you who keep this movement alive.

To be completely honest: Without your support, America would’ve been dead & gone a long time ago.

But right now my campaign is at its most critical moment.

My mid-month deadline is TOMORROW, and Joe Biden is raking in MILLIONS to destroy our movement.

So if you’ve EVER voted for me, I have one humble ask:

Can I count on you to chip in any amount before midnight and proudly proclaim: I STAND WITH PRESIDENT TRUMP!


I truly mean it, supporters like you keep me in the fight.

And I know it will be your support - right here, right now - that will get us through this dark moment in history.

Please stand with me before my critical deadline. I know with you by my side, WE WILL MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!

President Biden in his fundraising and campaign emails – at least the ones I have received — has offered little that is as compelling, engaging, and yes, entertaining.

President Biden and his spokespeople and surrogates need to display much more fire and fight. “When they go low, we go high” will not defeat Donald Trump and the neofascist MAGA movement and their forces in 2024. It didn’t even work in 2016.

The Democrats are obsessed with winning the argument based on the facts and the policies. Republicans, however, know that political arguments are actually mostly won based on emotions and storytelling.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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