WASHINGTON - After battling months of withering criticism for his botched response to the coronavirus crisis, President Donald Trump is relying on a new defense - it was Joe Biden, not him, who failed during a pandemic.
His evidence: the so-called swine flu pandemic, which killed 12,469 Americans in 2009 and 2010, when Biden was vice president. That's a tiny fraction of the nearly 197,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19 in the last six months.
"They did so bad on swine flu, you wouldn't even believe it," Trump said Wednesday, mentioning Biden by name.
Trump has long sought to divert attention from own misjudgments and mistakes by blaming his enemies. Now, as he struggles to overcome Biden's lead in the polls, the president has turned familiar schoolyard taunts like "I'm rubber, you're glue" into a campaign strategy.
"I suspect he's been doing it since the third grade, and I suspect it's always worked for him," said Rick Tyler, a Republican political consultant and critic of the president. "It's a difficult technique for grown adults to counter."
Deflecting criticism is a normal part of politics, but Trump stands out for how frequently and reflexively he redirects his opponent's attacks. In psychology, the tactic is known as projection - a defense mechanism to deny one's faults and attribute them to someone else.
"There's a long and deep record of him understanding his own vulnerabilities and externalizing them," Michael D'Antonio, who wrote a biography of Trump. "It hurts a little less if you can throw the criticism on someone else."
The tactic was clear during Trump's final debate with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, in 2016. At one point, she warned he would be a "puppet" for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"No puppet, no puppet, you're the puppet," he indignantly shot back.
Trump is using a similar approach against Biden this year.