Granted, a few arch‐partisans praised the Biden ad. The Nation’s Jeet Heer noted with annoyance: “Some political pundits, especially those in the MSNBC resistance liberal camp, loved the ad,” citing hosts Joe Scarborough and Joy Reid. But other liberal types were disgusted.
Heer not only rejected the reasoning of Scarborough and Reid, he accused Biden of succumbing to the type of xenophobia that Trump epitomized. Heer was especially upset about the “rolling over for the Chinese” terminology. “The use of the phrase ‘the Chinese’ is troubling, since it fails to acknowledge the distinction between the Chinese people and the government of the People’s Republic of China.” He even accused Biden of dabbling “in ‘Yellow Peril’ rhetoric.” Some moderate Democrats also criticized the strategy. Writing in the Atlantic, Peter Beinart blasted the “utter futility of Biden’s China rhetoric.” He cautioned that trying to “out‐hawk Trump” on China was “pointless, even dangerous.”
It certainly is a long‐shot strategy. Trump has established a reputation for being “tough” toward China, especially on trade issues. A few surprisingly conciliatory comments about China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak — most of them before the extent of Beijing’s lack of transparency about the issue became apparent — are not likely sufficient to negate that image.
Moreover, throughout his term, prominent Democrats and their media allies repeatedly condemned Trump for waging an ill‐advised trade war against that country. Such criticism was part of a larger critique accusing the president of excessive nationalism (if not outright xenophobia) and an aversion to international cooperation.
That is why the Biden camp’s attempt to reverse course and label Trump as “soft” on China inherently lacks credibility. Indeed, the president’s defenders are ridiculing the strategy. Trump’s campaign organization immediately derided Biden for a new “fake‐tough” China policy. A campaign email blast stated: “Beijing Biden can pretend to be tough on China, but there is more than four decades worth of material (plus some from the past year) that will make it impossible for him to deceive Americans.”
It will not be easy for Biden and the rest of the Democratic Party to overcome their disadvantages on the China issue. The best, albeit imperfect, approach is to attempt to reduce the prominence of that issue and constantly remind voters of other important issues where Trump and the Republicans are especially vulnerable. But trying to out‐hawk the GOP on China is not only futile, it has the potential to exacerbate serious public hostility toward Beijing and push the United States into a full‐blown cold war with that country.