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At glitzy Biden fundraiser, three presidents unite to blast Trump

President Joe Biden speaks at Stupak Community Center on Tuesday in Las Vegas.  (Ian Maule)
By Toluse Olorunnipa Washington Post

NEW YORK – In a rarity in presidential history, three Democratic presidents gathered here Thursday to publicly pillory and mock another former occupant of the Oval Office, blasting Donald Trump on the economy, immigration, abortion, his character and even his golf game.

At a fundraiser that President Biden’s campaign said raised more than $26 million, former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton took turns laying out the stakes of the upcoming election, repeatedly telling the sold-out crowd of 5,000 why Trump should never be president again.

“We’ve got not just a nominee, but frankly a party and an entire infrastructure that increasingly seems unconcerned with the essence of America,” Obama said at the event, which took place at Radio City Music Hall and featured celebrity performers including Mindy Kaling, Ben Platt and Lizzo.

Clinton mocked Trump for taking credit for Democrats’ accomplishments. “I listened to him tell us how terrible the American economy was all during 2016,” Clinton said. “And then, by January 2017, after the inauguration, it had become wonderful, miraculously, overnight.”

Biden indirectly responded to concerns about his age by comparing himself to Trump. “This guy denies there’s global warming,” he said. “This guy wants to get rid of not only Roe v. Wade, which he brags about having done, he wants to get rid of the ability of anyone anywhere in America to have the right to choose. All the things he’s doing are so old. A little old and out of shape.”

The fundraiser, which Biden’s campaign said broke records for a political event, capped a stretch of stepped-up activity for the president and represented the latest effort by his allies to flip the script on the presidential race in which Biden has faced Democratic anxiety over his age and sagging approval ratings.

In recent weeks, Biden’s campaign has taken a feistier tone in mocking Trump, aiming to present him as the feeble and struggling candidate in the race. On Thursday, Biden, who is 81, said he would “be happy” to challenge Trump, 77, to a round of golf.

“I told him this before when he came into the Oval before he got sworn in,” Biden said. “I said, ‘I’ll give you three strokes if you carry your own bag,’ ” Biden said to laughter.

While the crowd of Democratic donors - who paid between $225 and $500,000 to attend and, in some cases, take pictures with the presidents - was mostly friendly, the event was interrupted multiple times by pro-Palestinian protesters. Outside, a large crowd of demonstrators chanted “Genocide Joe!” and blasted Biden’s handling of the war in Gaza, with some clashing with police.

All three men remarked on the war, reflecting on the difficulty of trying to solve intractable challenges such as Middle East peace as president. Biden said there have been “too many innocent victims, Israeli and Palestinian,” in the conflict.

Obama said Biden faces a heart-wrenching crisis that is more complex than many want to acknowledge. “I think people understandably oftentimes want to feel a certain surety in terms of how those decisions are made,” Obama said. “But a president doesn’t have that luxury.”

When protesters continued shouting, Obama shot back: “No, no listen. You can’t just talk and not listen. … That’s what the other side does. And it is possible for us to understand that it is possible to have moral clarity and have deeply held beliefs, but still recognize that the world is complicated and it is hard to solve these problems.”

During the rest of the conversation, which was moderated by comedian and late night host Stephen Colbert, the three presidents repeatedly answered questions by turning their fire against Trump. Clinton blasted Trump for working to sink a bipartisan immigration deal, saying Trump was “good at branding and blaming” but not solving problems.

Obama said that during Trump’s four years in office, basic American ideals “were not just de-emphasized, but were violated.” Biden attacked his predecessor for his handling of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, saying “we had no president” that day.

While the three men - and Colbert - spent considerable time focusing on Trump, Obama at times used his remarks to emphasize the importance of making an affirmative case for Biden.

I think it’s worth adding, it’s not just the negative case against the presumptive nominee on the other side,” Obama said after Biden gave his first answer and spoke mostly about Trump. “It’s the positive case for somebody who’s done an outstanding job.”

Obama has previously expressed his concerns about the state of Biden’s campaign for reelection. In a private lunch with Biden last year, Obama urged Biden to bolster his campaign apparatus and move more aggressively to block Trump’s planned march to the White House.

Trump was also in New York on Thursday, to attend the wake of a New York City police officer, Jonathan Diller, who was killed in the line of duty Monday.

“We have to get back to law and order,” Trump, who has often blamed Biden for instances of violent crime, told reporters outside the wake. “We have to do a lot of things differently because this is not working. This is happening too often.”

Colbert took the opportunity of Thursday’s event for a dig at Trump for the multiple criminal charges against him. “This is an especially exciting and rare occasion,” Colbert said. “Three presidents have all come to New York. And not one of them is here to appear in court.”

While Biden has opened up a considerable fundraising advantage against his predecessor, Trump and his aides are aiming to close the gap. He plans to hold a fundraiser next week in Mar-a-Lago hosted by several billionaires, with one adviser saying the event could raise $33 million.

On Friday, Biden planned to meet with his campaign’s top officials in New York during a campaign finance retreat, where his team was set to provide a comprehensive briefing on the state of the presidential race, according to campaign aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategizing.

The event was slated to include a briefing on the latest polling, discussion about potential paths to victory and an overview of how the campaign is spending its resources in battleground states.

Josh Dawsey, Jeff Stein, Michael Scherer and Elizabeth Dwoskin contributed to this report.