As President Joe Biden contemplates a 2024 reelection bid, and a possible rematch against former President Donald Trump, a new book reveals that Trump wrote a “shockingly gracious” letter to Biden upon leaving office. The book, titled The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House and set for release on Tuesday, also details an internal debate amongst Biden’s political advisors over using the phrase “a battle for the soul of this nation” — to highlight the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville — as the central theme of the 2020 campaign.
“It just shows he’s got many different layers,” Jared Kushner, Trump’s White House advisor, told the author, Chris Whipple, about the letter left by Trump in the Oval Office for Biden on Jan. 20, 2021.
Biden told his aides that the letter was “shockingly gracious” but did not share its content. Kushner said that Trump spent three days composing it.
‘I’m with you until you hit the dirt’
The formal transition of power and the moment leading up to that note came after months of Trump refusing to concede the election.
Since election day, Kushner and Ivanka Trump had kept telling themselves that Trump would eventually come around and accept his defeat, but “just needed to nurse his wounds,” Whipple writes. Even after supporters of Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Kushner reportedly told friends he still hoped Trump would invite Biden to the White House on inauguration day. “That image of the two presidents together, he thought, was what America wanted to see,” Whipple writes.
Kushner described engaging in “knock-down, drag-out screaming matches” with his father-in-law, according to the book. “With all due respect, I’m not going to like what you are doing, and you’re going to be screaming at me,” Kushner told Trump about his claim of voter fraud.
“Look, when you’re out of here, a lot of people will scatter,” Kushner yelled at Trump at one point, Whipple writes. “I’m with you until you hit the dirt — so you may want to listen to what I’m saying.” Kushner suggested that two of Trump’s attorneys, Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, were taking him “on a funky ride” with their scheming of overturning the election.
In his own memoir, published in August, Kushner wrote that he was in the air on a flight heading back from Saudi Arabia as the insurrection of the Capitol unfolded. His impression was that nobody at the White House expected violence that day, and if they had, “they would have prevented it from happening.”
When Kushner landed at Joint Base Andrews, his secret service detail told him it was too dangerous to go to the White House and instead drove Kushner to his home in Kalorama, a neighborhood in D.C. But as Kushner was getting into the shower, according to Whipple’s book, his phone rang. It was House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy who told him things were looking bad and asked for his intervention. Kushner “threw on his clothes” and headed to the White House to oversee the response.
A winning theme
In Whipple’s book, Mike Donilon, a senior White House advisor who served as the Biden campaign’s chief strategist, discloses that Biden’s focus on Charlottesville in his run against Trump was a matter of internal debate. Biden said that the violence that transpired that day in 2017 with neo-Nazis marching and chanting “Jews will not replace us,” and Trump’s reaction of moral equivalence is what motivated him to run for president.
“There weren’t a lot of people in the campaign who were crazy about it,” Whipple writes, quoting Donilon. “Pollsters were like, ‘It’s nonsense.’”
But Biden stuck with it nonetheless because it was at the heart of his decision to run. “There were no bromides here,” Donilon recalled their thinking.
He added that the slogan helped Biden get through the early primaries — some volunteers reported back that people were repeating the phrase during canvassing and door-knocking – and was “one of the reasons he won.”
More than a year into his presidency, Biden was once again reminded of the Charlottesville events and his campaign themes when Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Whipple writes. “Now evil forces like the one he’d seen in Charlottesville were threatening the heart of Europe.”
Biden was “cold-eyed” about Putin, the author writes. He thought the Russian president “personified the evil he’s seen memorialized” at the Dachau concentration camp, which Biden had visited with his granddaughter, Finnegan Biden, in 2015.
Speaking at a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium last March, Biden said Putin’s murderous acts and Trump’s “both sides” remarks were connected.
“I had no intention of running for president again and — until I saw those folks coming out of the fields in Virginia carrying torches and carrying Nazi banners and literally singing the same vile rhyme that they used in Germany in the early ‘20s — or ‘30s, I should say,” Biden told a reporter who asked about the risks of Trump returning to office. “That’s when I decided I wasn’t going to be quiet any longer.”
Biden revived his “soul of the nation” argument ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Democrats retained control of the Senate and lost the House by a slim margin.
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