WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's eldest son on Saturday posted a social media message suggesting Joe Biden was a pedophile, an incendiary and baseless charge that illustrates the tactics the president is turning to as he attempts to erase Biden's early advantage in key state polls.
Donald Trump Jr., who is one of his father's most prominent campaign surrogates, put on Instagram a picture of Biden saying: "See you later, alligator" alongside an image of an alligator saying: "In a while, pedophile."
When a reporter shared the Instagram post online, the younger Trump, echoing one of his father's tactics, wrote on Twitter that he was only "joking around" and noted that he had included emojis of a laughing face.
Yet in the same Twitter post, he also reprised his original insinuation. He accused the former vice president of "unwanted touching" alongside a collage of photographs of Biden showing affection for children. The misleading images were mostly taken from public swearing-in ceremonies at the Capitol, where the former vice president warmly greeted lawmakers and their families.
Biden has been accused by some adult women of inappropriate behavior but he has never faced any suggestion of misconduct with a child. Trump himself faces roughly two dozen accusations of sexual misconduct, and in the "Access Hollywood" tape from 2005 bragged about sexually assaulting women and grabbing them by their private parts.
Trump Jr.'s inflammatory and baseless claim, which he shared with his 2.8 million Instagram followers, comes as his father and the reelection campaign have sought to weaken Biden and attack other perceived enemies with an onslaught of allegations and insinuations rarely seen in modern elections.
The 73-year-old president has, for example, purchased a series of Facebook ads openly accusing his 77-year-old Democratic rival of being "old and out of it," as one of them puts it. And the president himself has said much the same, stating Thursday that Biden "doesn't know he's alive."
Trump's scorched earth campaign strategy comes as little surprise - he has broken an array of norms during his three years in office. But his offensive has taken on a new urgency as the country reels from the health and economic devastation wrought by the coronavirus, and Biden enjoys a modest lead in the battleground states that will decide the election.
A spokesman for the president's campaign did not respond to an email message asking if they condone the younger Trump's message.
Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Biden, said: "No repulsive, manipulative tactic will change the subject from how almost 90,000 Americans have paid for Donald Trump's coronavirus negligence with their lives and how the booming economy he inherited from the Obama-Biden administration is now suffering from Depression-level job losses."
Trump Jr., 42, is affiliated with his family's real estate business. But he spends much of his time on his father's political efforts and is ubiquitous on social media, where he often posts barbed memes about Democrats that can go beyond even the president's accusations and insinuations. The eldest Trump son is also more of a dedicated conservative than his father and often gives voice to some of the more extreme elements of the right.
Further, Trump Jr. is something of an early warning system for Republican lines of attack. For months, he has been posting material questioning Biden's mental acuity and accusing him of being "creepy," as he wrote again Saturday.
In an interview with Axios earlier this year, Trump Jr. acknowledged his father sometimes calls him to tell him he's being "too aggressive" in his attacks.
But the younger Trump said with a smile that he tells his father he "learned it by watching you" and claimed the president often is more jealous than irritated. "He just wanted the material. He was mad I beat him to the punch."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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