Don’t explain. Don’t excuse: Joe Biden’s only debate strategy is to attack Donald Trump

Trump is trying to set an immigration trap

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published June 25, 2024 9:00AM (EDT)

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

It’s Lee Atwater time for the Trump campaign. 

It’s understandable if the name escapes you. Atwater hasn’t been in the news much since he died in 1991, having made a deathbed apology for pretty much his entire political career as an avatar of the Republican “Southern Strategy” that used racism to strip voters away from the Democratic Party and convince them to vote for such cuddly Republican racists as Strom Thurmond. But what Atwater was most famous for, and what Republicans revere him for, was his authorship of the so-called Willie Horton ad. The 1988 George H. W. Bush campaign commercial attacked Democrat Michael Dukakis for his policy as governor of Massachusetts that allowed prisoners out for furloughs if they had records of good behavior.  Horton, in prison for stabbing a boy to death during a robbery, was released on furlough and promptly kidnapped a young couple and raped the woman repeatedly while the young man watched. Atwater declared he would “make Willie Horton Dukakis’ running mate” with the ad.  

Now there are reports that Donald Trump has a plan to do the same thing to Joe Biden during the debate on Thursday by tying him to two migrants who murdered a 12-year-old girl, Jocelyn Nungaray, after they had been released from custody on immigration holds by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Trump has already begun his attack, telling the Christian Nationalist Faith and Freedom Conference on Saturday, “Just this week, 12-year-old Jocelyn Nungaray was found strangled to death and dumped in a creek in Houston.” Trump told the crowd that the young girl was “Allegedly murdered by two recent illegal border crossers from Venezuela, viciously murdered. These monsters should never have been in our country.”

Don’t make excuses. Don’t explain policies.

Trump has used other examples in his stump speech to crowds at rallies as he attacks the Biden administration for an increase in violent crime, especially by migrants. There has been no such increase in violent crime, however. In fact, all crime is down across the United States, and crimes by migrants have historically been lower than crimes by citizens.  A July 2023 study by the Stanford Institute for Policy Research revealed that “immigrants are 30 percent less likely to be incarcerated than are U.S.-born individuals who are white.” The study goes on to note that “when the analysis is expanded to include Black Americans — whose prison rates are higher than the general population — the likelihood of an immigrant being incarcerated is 60 percent lower than of people born in the United States.” 

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I’m supplying the figures from the Stanford study for information purposes alone, because this is exactly the kind of facts and figures Biden should completely avoid citing in the debate on Thursday. Trump has told so many lies about migrants and crime and everything else that his base voters are immune to argument at this point, and of course, so is Trump.

So, what should Biden do? 

He should talk about the dozens and dozens of American citizens who lost their lives to mass shootings while Donald Trump was in the White House, refusing for his four years in office to do anything meaningful against gun violence.  He didn’t do anything about crimes by migrants during the same period, but that’s another argument Biden shouldn’t make.  Instead, he should list deaths by mass shootings, most of which were done by shooters using AR-15 style rifles that Trump nixed putting any sort of controls on.

For starters, here is my partial list the White House is free to use of the mass murders by firearms that took place after Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017:

Oct. 1, 2017:  May as well get things started with the largest mass shooting in American history.  A 64-year-old gunman, using multiple AR-15 style rifles, most of them equipped with the kind of bump stocks that Trump’s Supreme Court just legalized, killed 64 people and wounded more than 400 at a music festival.

Nov. 5, 2017:  A 26-year-old man using an AR-15 style rifle killed 26 people and wounded 22 others at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  It remains the deadliest mass killing in Texas history.

May 18, 2018:  A 17-year-old student at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, killed ten students and two teachers with a handgun and shotgun using ammunition he had bought online without showing proof of age.  Thirteen others were wounded.

Feb. 14, 2018:  A nineteen-year-old shooter using an AR-15 and multiple large-capacity magazines killed 17 people and wounded 17 more at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Oct. 27, 2028:  A 46-year-old self-described antisemite and racist walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and killed 11 people in the congregation, including two Holocaust survivors.  He wounded six more.

Nov. 7, 2018:  A twenty-eight-year-old Marine Corps veteran killed 13 people, including a police officer, in a country and western bar in Thousand Oaks, California.  One other person was wounded and 13 more were injured in the mayhem.

May 31, 2019:  A gunman walked into a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Va., and killed 12 people, wounding four others before he was killed by responding police officers.

July 28, 2019: A young gunman left 3 people dead and more than a dozen people injured after an attack on the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California. 

August 3, 2019:  A self-described racist and xenophobe walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and killed 23 people, wounding 22 others.  Most of those killed were of Hispanic ancestry.  The gunman had announced his intention to kill Latinos on social media prior to the killings.

August 4, 2019:  A gunman armed with an AR-15 style weapon with a 100-round drum magazine killed nine people and wounded 17 others outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio.

February 26, 2020:  An employee of the Molson Coors Brewing Company killed five co-workers at the brewery before committing suicide. 

December 8, 2020:  A mother used a shotgun to kill her five children in Williamsburg, West Virginia, before setting her house on fire and killing herself.

President Biden might mention that there was a fall-off in the number of mass shootings because of the COVID pandemic in 2020, but the pandemic itself managed to take 400,000 American lives during Donald Trump’s last year in office.

Biden should study his briefing books and be up on disputes over politics and policy, but when it comes to defending himself on immigration, don’t bother.  With the exception of Native Americans, there is not a human being in these United States who isn’t in one way or another an immigrant. Don’t make excuses. Don’t explain policies. Recognize that Donald Trump’s four years in office make him the biggest target of them all. Call him a liar to his face every time he tells a lie, and attack, attack, attack.

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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2024 Cnn Commentary Crime Donald Trump Elections Gun Violence Immigration Joe Biden Mass Shootings Migrants