EXCLUSIVE: As Joe Biden heads into a full day of events and visits to the Hollywood ATM on Thursday, he feeling the heat from some of his most influential Tinseltown donors to get tougher with Donald Trump.
Logline: Looking at other contenders like the hard hitting Sen. Elizabeth Warren, some major contributors want the former VP to take off the white gloves and to capitalize on an opportune moment of the subpoena flying impeachment inquiry.
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Biden did amp up his attacks on the ex-Celebrity Apprentice host on Wednesday, when he called for Trump’s impeachment, centering on the president’s July 25 phone call in which he asked the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter. Never one to miss a chance to kick up dust in his enemies’ faces and his own, and double-down, Trump has now publicly called for the Ukrainians and the Chinese government to both probe the “crooked” Bidens.
“This isn’t make-or-break time for the Vice President, but it is time to start hitting Trump harder,” said one top industry donor of Biden’s responses to him, his family and his campaign. “Calling for impeachment was one thing, but Biden needs to stop coasting and get out in front of this,” the A-lister added.
Back for another fundraiser swing through L.A. today and in search of catching up to Sen. Warren and other Dems in passing the hat around, Biden is scheduled to appear at two pricey showbiz-heavy events. There’s an afternoon gathering at the home of ex-HBO chief and producer Michael Lombardo and an evening event at the home of Paramount boss Jim Gianopulos.
Now, candidates are commonly showered with advice from donors, perhaps more so from those in Hollywood who see themselves as premiere experts in shaping narrative. But there has been some growing drumming beating from from the industry deep pockets that Biden’s initial response was not aggressive enough after he swore to beat Trump like a drum, and then said the same thing over and over.
That doesn’t mean that they think Biden should do a 60 Minutes-style sitdown to go point-by-point through the Ukraine-Hunter Biden connection, as some believe that would be giving implicit credibility to Trump’s attacks. However, there is a sense that Biden has an unique opportunity to break through, particularly at a time when the Massachusetts senator is drawing so much attention for her rise in the polls and fundraising.
“I think Biden is handling this the best he can right now,” said political consultant Donna Bojarsky. “You don’t want to make yourself more of a target for the incendiary and baseless attacks by Trump and his allies. It’s prudent to consider that.”
One fundraising source pointed to Biden’s speech on Wednesday as the type of remarks they want to hear more of. Biden said that Trump “will do anything to get re-elected, including violating the most basic forms of democracy. That’s not hyperbole. That’s a fact. No president in American history has ever dared engage in such unimaginable behavior.”
After the Ukraine story broke, “the initial reaction was that his response was inadequate,” said the fundraising source. “But the Biden campaign seems to have heard that, and seems to have adjusted in the last 48 hours.”
Mike Murphy, the Republican strategist who co-hosts the podcast Hacks on Tap with David Axelrod, said that Hollywood donors “look for performance. They value that more than anything.” The Ukraine scandal has given Biden an opportunity to stand out from the Democratic field and frame the race as a general election campaign against Trump. Yet his performance against the president has “kind of been on again, off again” and “at best uneven,” Murphy said.
He added that “Biden’s problem is that when Hunter comes up, instead of pivoting and going on the attack, he kind of staggers.” In other words, industry donors and activists want to see him go on offense, like bringing up Trump’s children and their own business conflicts-of-interests.
Murphy, too, thinks that Biden’s speech on Wednesday was the kind of offense that industry donors are looking for — but want to see it more often.
At this point, still months before the first primary votes, Hollywood donors who have committed to Biden are not defecting.
Yet, as the former VP set more travel out to Cali for early December today, there are some rumblings of who the fallback candidate would be should Biden falter. Other than Biden, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker have drawn the most interest from industry donors, according to the latest fundraising numbers.
Meanwhile, Warren, who has shunned the type of tony, high-dollar fundraising events that are a staple of Hollywood’s political scene, has a number of fans in showbiz. “There’s definitely an uptick in interest,” Bojarsky said, adding that “people have started to talking about how she can broaden her appeal.”
Like Biden, Warren is back in town today for Equality in America, a CNN town hall focused on LGBTQ issues. Also in L.A for fundraisers, Mayor will be participating in the Human Rights Campaign sponsored TV event too with Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, ex-HUD Secretary and Biden baiter Julian Castro and millionaire Tom Steyer.
Right now, a number of Biden’s industry supporters still feel Sen. Warren will prove too far to the left to win a general election, even as she leads the ex-VP among Dems in some polls. And even in an industry that leans heavily to the left in theory, attacks on the rich have their limits for some upper crust donors, what with Warren’s proposal for a wealth tax and vows to overhaul other aspects of American capitalism.
At least for now.