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Trump prepares scorched earth campaign against Biden

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President Donald Trump makes no secret of the scorched earth campaign he'll mount against Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden - complete with questioning the former vice president's cognitive abilities and accusing him constantly of corruption.

[WASHINGTON] President Donald Trump makes no secret of the scorched earth campaign he'll mount against Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden - complete with questioning the former vice president's cognitive abilities and accusing him constantly of corruption.

A veteran senator and former wingman to Barack Obama, Mr Biden has shot into pole position ahead of fiery leftist rival Bernie Sanders with a soothing message of restoring calm and "decency" to America.

But a race against Mr Trump will resemble a demolition derby more than a debate on decorum.

As part of his folksy plain "Joe" persona, Mr Biden often says he'll beat Mr Trump "like a drum" in November.

Mr Trump, though, has been banging his own drum for months, mocking Mr Biden's propensity for verbal stumbles, insinuating that the 77-year-old is senile, and tarring him as corrupt.

Mr Trump's reaction to the Biden surge on Super Tuesday gave a taste of what's to come.

Yes, he congratulated Mr Biden the next day on the "incredible comeback," but in the same breath he suggested the Democrat he calls "Sleepy Joe" is controlled by "handlers." And all week he has publicly lampooned Mr Biden's gaffes, saying that if he'd made them "it would be the end of the road."

'BERNIE'S EASIER' 

Despite this, all the signs are that Mr Trump fears Mr Biden more than Mr Sanders.

For months, Mr Trump has been revving up a potential battle against the self-declared democratic socialist he nicknames "crazy Bernie."

In Trump world, a showdown with Mr Sanders, a man who visited the Soviet Union with his wife as newlyweds, praised communist Cuba and wants to reorder the entire US economy, would be the perfect gift.

Warnings of a "socialist nightmare" wind deeply through Mr Trump's stump speech.

At a rally last week, Mr Trump even polled the crowd on which candidate would be better for him. The crowd shouted for Mr Sanders.

Mr Trump agreed.

"I think Bernie's easier to beat," he said.

OPERATION STOP BIDEN 

Mr Biden carries the baggage of decades spent in Congress and the fact he is even older than 73-year-old Trump. He will also face internal party opposition from diehard Sanders supporters.

But as a centrist and someone still strongly associated with the popular Obama, he appears to spook the Republican president.

Last year, Mr Trump risked everything on a wild goose chase to find proof that Mr Biden corruptly procured his son Hunter a cushy job in Ukraine while serving as vice-president.

Despite strong-arming Ukraine's fragile government to cooperate and sending his personal lawyer on muckraking missions, Mr Trump never found evidence that there was anything criminal going on.

For his efforts, he got himself impeached in the lower House, even if the Republican-held Senate promptly voted for his acquittal.

But expect the Hunter Biden story to become central to the election if Mr Biden becomes the Democratic nominee. Mr Trump will make sure of it.

"That will be a major issue in the campaign. I will bring that up all the time," Mr Trump told Fox News' Sean Hannity on Wednesday in an interview that more closely resembled a friendly chat between two colleagues.

"I don't see how they can answer those questions," Mr Trump said. "That was purely corrupt."

SAVAGING 'SLEEPY JOE' 

Mr Trump's eventual opponent, aided most likely by the vast funds and media savvy of unsuccessful candidate Michael Bloomberg, will counter that the president is the one steeped in corruption.

Even the issue of children getting sweetheart deals would be easy to throw back: Mr Trump is frequently accused of nepotism in making his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner senior White House advisors.

But Mr Trump is skilled at bare knuckle politics and never more so than in exploiting the contrast between what he claims is his physical prowess and Mr Biden's frailty.

Rarely does a campaign rally go by without Mr Trump ridiculing Mr Biden's mental sharpness and verbal miscues - which some suggest are linked to his lifelong battle against stuttering.

Mr Trump not only reenacts Mr Biden's words, but adds confused facial expressions and portrays aides frantically trying to get their man off the stage.

The humour is cruel and constant - and Mr Trump's supporters laugh.

"He was always very gaffe-prone. He was always - he was always in trouble in that way," Mr Trump told Hannity, with a tone of concern.

"But never like this. What's going on now is crazy."

AFP