WASHINGTON • This week, the eyes of US voters turn to Mr Joe Biden, Ms Kamala Harris and the Democratic convention – unless they swivel first to Republican distracter-in-chief Donald Trump.
For the Democrats, the convention is the real 2020 campaign launch, culminating on Thursday when Mr Biden accepts the nomination to confront Mr Trump on Nov 3.
The incumbent President, however, loves nothing more than stealing the show.
So when the Democratic celebration – already low-key due to coronavirus precautions – kicked off yesterday, Mr Trump was set to begin his own campaign tour with speeches in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Today, Mr Trump will be back on Air Force One to speak in Arizona.
And on Thursday, the biggest moment in Mr Biden’s political life, Mr Trump is turning the troll factor to maximum with a speech next to Scranton, Pennsylvania – the blue-collar town where Mr Biden grew up and which he still refers to as his spiritual home.
According to the Trump campaign, the theme of this week’s tour will be simple enough: “Highlighting Joe Biden’s record of failure”.
Mr Trump feels at his best in front of a live audience. While he has also cancelled his big Republican convention due to Covid-19 curbs, he still plans to give his main speech in front of guests in just under two weeks at the White House.
But hitting the road carries considerable risks.
Mr Trump’s last attempt to stage one of his beloved rallies, an event in Oklahoma in June, was a flop when few supporters showed up.
And this week, he will be competing with the Democrats’ top stars, all of them nearly desperate to make him a one-term president.
They include former first lady Michelle Obama and former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders who were to speak yesterday, and former president Barack Obama and Mr Biden’s newly minted vice-presidential pick, Ms Harris, scheduled for tomorrow.
But what if Mr Trump just ends up energising his opponents?
“The biggest problem for President Trump right now is the more he speaks, the worse he does,” Princeton University politics professor Julian Zelizer said on CNN.
“I am not sure having more of President Trump out there in the next few days will necessarily hurt Democrats. It might be exactly what they need.”
A veteran of reality TV and something of a genius at self-promotion, Mr Trump entered politics with a knack for identifying opponents’ weak spots and turning them into central campaign themes.
In 2016, his catchphrase of then Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton – “crooked Hillary” – stuck. In unprecedented, ugly scenes, he encouraged crowds to chant “lock her up”.
Traditionalists were appalled, but Mr Trump was tapping widely held mistrust of the Clinton brand and his attacks, however crude, hurt the far more experienced opponent.
During the Democratic primaries, Mr Trump likewise peddled deliberately insulting yet catchy nicknames for what many thought were the strongest candidates – “Crazy Bernie” Sanders and “Pocahontas” Elizabeth Warren.
Against Mr Biden and Ms Harris, however, Mr Trump seems suddenly less sure of himself.
The duo are from the centre of the Democratic Party, making them far more slippery targets.
And Ms Harris in particular appears to trouble the President.
A former prosecutor, she does not fit easily into his central campaign message about Democrats being soft on crime. His testing of adjectives for her like “nasty” and “disrespectful” seem unlikely to endear him with women voters.
An ABC/Washington Post poll on Sunday found that 54 per cent of Americans approve of Ms Harris and just 29 per cent do not.
Mr Trump also seems to be losing some of his self-assurance over how to tackle Mr Biden.
For months, he has pushed the view that Mr Obama’s former vice-president, whom he nicknames “Sleepy Joe”, is senile and unfit for office. Yet polls continue to show the Democrat with commanding leads in swing states and even threatening Republican heartlands.
Reflecting his frustration, Mr Trump turned to a crowd of supporters from the New York Police Department last Friday for help, asking if perhaps he had a problem with the nickname.
“What’s better, ‘Sleepy Joe’ or ‘Slow Joe’?” he asked.
“I go back and forth.”
Cheers for “Sleepy Joe” came louder and the President nodded.
“That’s what I thought,” he said.