Biden’s allies are begging him to fight harder. The State of the Union is his chance to do so.

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A handful of Democratic governors made their way through a gaggle of their colleagues last month to tell President Joe Biden directly what they’ve been stressing behind the scenes: He needs to be fighting harder.

The Democrats told Biden that he needed to show more of the fire that was on display in a closed-door meeting with governors when Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte handed him a letter demanding more action on the southern border. Biden flashed a smile, according to two of the governors standing there.

“State of the Union,” Biden said, teasingly.

That fighting attitude is anticipated to be on display during Thursday’s primetime speech, in which the president is expected to go much further than he is used to in bashing corporations for gouging consumers and racking up profits. But with anger about rising prices driving so much of the bad vibes surrounding the economy — even the Cookie Monster X account posted about shrinkflation on Monday, prompting a response from the White House — Biden is going where he long resisted, in an effort to redirect the fury that has been weighing him down in the polls.

Leading Democrats say it’s far past time.

Two dozen top Democratic officials and operatives who spoke to CNN said they’re tired of reading that the president is cursing about Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu behind the closed doors of the Oval Office, or hearing reports that he told donors that Vladimir Putin is “a crazy SOB” and that MAGA Republicans are worse than segregationists. They want to see that passion and fire out in public as assurances that the president’s behind-the-scenes demeanor doesn’t match the public perception of the 81-year-old commander-in-chief are wearing thin.

“A lot of times you need to hear it from the candidate,” said Tim Walz, the governor of Minnesota who’s eagerly thrown himself into becoming one of the president’s most active defenders. “Joe Biden’s a nice guy. People get that. One of the things people wonder, ‘Is he tough enough to take these things on?’”

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Axelrod says this is what Biden needs to do during his State of the Union speech to appeal to voters

01:24 – Source: CNN

Plus, Walz said, it would push back against the concerns that Biden is too old.

“I think it helps. He’s still going to be his age, but I think it helps to make the case on this,” Walz said. “Punch [Trump] a little bit. He earned it.”

Multiple Democratic officials told CNN they are hesitant of how much of to say, weighing the risks of calling even more attention to what Biden isn’t doing by going public.

But privately, many talk longingly about wanting to see more passion and pride – political theatrics, sure, but ones that they argue are crucial – at a moment when exhaustion with the process is pervasive and the Democratic worries over a second Trump administration are high. Biden’s effort in standing up for democracy shouldn’t top out with a few sly digs on Seth Meyers’ late-night show, they insist. They argue he shouldn’t give a forceful speech marking the anniversary of the January 6, 2021, insurrection and assume that will fill out his energetic quota for over two months.

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“People do want to see that he’s a fighter, which he is. Anything that presents the contrast, which I think that would help do, I’d be for,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a longtime friend of Biden.

Planning for traps

At a moment when polls show majorities of Democrats don’t think Biden should be running for reelection, and with the biggest national audience he is likely to get outside of the summer convention, Biden and his aides are hyper aware of the importance of Thursday’s speech. They know every word and stutter and shuffle will be picked over as much as any of the policy proposals, and the drafting has been going until late into the evening in the West Wing.

Top Biden advisers insist that their favorite moment from last year’s speech – when he got Republicans to boo cutting Social Security and Medicare, punctuating the moment with “I enjoy conversion” – was not at all planned.

This time around, aides acknowledge that the political pressure has them workshopping options to not leave Biden’s fate up to another improvisation and the hope that he will have another smooth off-the-cuff response.

Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz isn’t sure the State of the Union is the right forum for Biden to come out in full force, “but after that, I think he’s going to have to be gloves off.”

Biden aides love to scold and shame reporters for coverage they think is unfair or over-torqued. Schatz said the president and his aides need to move past that to get negative stories about Trump covered by getting Biden to take the swings.

“We don’t have time to rewrite the rules of engagement in journalism. We just have to work with what we have,” Schatz said. “He’s personally going to have to make that case, and not assume that people are organically going to get it, either from surrogates or via osmosis.”

Biden aides acknowledge he’d look stronger if he fought more

For months, Biden campaign aides have been talking about the need to step up, and the obvious benefit they see in him doing it. People look strong when they’re picking fights, is how one senior Biden campaign official summarized the thinking to CNN all the way back in January – and they know the president needs to look stronger than he does.

They have found this easier said than done, and not just because Biden is trying to maintain the chances of getting a few outstanding bills through Congress, including avoiding a shutdown and sending more aid to Israel and Ukraine.

“The real Joe Biden is: ‘We’re red states, we’re blue states, but we’re the United States of America,’” said Gov. John Carney, who’s known Biden for decades and attributes that sensibility to their shared Delaware roots. “But he also is feisty.”

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