The Joe Biden-Donald Trump Rematch Is On: CBS News’ Robert Costa Talks About What To Expect In The Long Campaign Ahead

When Joe Biden and Donald Trump clinched their party nominations this week, it marked the end of primary season and the start of the general election campaign.

From now until November 5, the campaigns of the current president and the former president will blitz battleground states with visits from the candidates and their surrogates and flood the airwaves with the latest ads.

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The past few days have been a bit of a preview of what to expect.

When Biden told MSNBC over the weekend that he regrets using the term “illegal” in the State of the Union address, Trump posted a meme alleging that his successor “apologizes” to Laken Riley’s killer.

When Trump gave an interview on CNBC, Biden seized on his comments about cutting Social Security and Medicare.

There’s also concerns of a protracted general election campaign of polarized rhetoric. Last week, NBC News’ Chuck Todd wrote that this “isn’t going to be an election for the faint of heart: It’s going to be nasty, it’s going to be personal, and violence is more probable than most would want to admit.”

Deadline recently spoke to Robert Costa, CBS News’s chief election and campaign correspondent, about what to expect in the months ahead.

DEADLINE: Primary season is over. What are you going to be looking out for in the next couple of weeks?

ROBERT COSTA: This is going to be a long and arduous general election campaign. The primary race is now effectively over, and you’re looking at not only a rematch but a rematch of two people who have both occupied the White House and are both over the age of 75. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in American history. The Republican nominee, Donald Trump, has total command of his party, and you see it with the sweeping victories he had on Super Tuesday. He’s also facing mounting legal challenges, and those legal challenges are going to be a real part of the campaign story moving forward. Just weeks ago, when I was in New York covering Trump’s trials, I asked him how he sees the campaign trail versus the courtroom. And he said to me that the courtroom is essentially the campaign trail for him, that he believes he’s not only running against President Joe Biden but against a legal establishment and legal system he feels [is] aligned against him. And these dynamics are going to be playing out all year. We’re not just going to be covering general election campaign events — going to diners, going to rallies, talking with voters. I’m going to be in the courtroom covering the Republican nominee starting in late March, when he faces a criminal trial over hush-money payments to a porn star. And then, come April, there’s the question about presidential immunity that will come before the Supreme Court, and that will be an enormously important crossroads because it could decide whether Trump faces federal trials this year… .

We’re in a historic moment, a convulsive moment in America unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and as reporters, we’re on the edge of our seats, trying to stay steady, get the story as much as possible, go in depth and recognize every day that what we’re covering is unusual but demands excellence in terms of reporting. We have to be on top of developments, new themes, new issues. This is not like 1996, kind of a run-of-the-mill presidential campaign. It’s not like 2012, where it was right versus left, red versus blue. This is, in the eyes of some Trump critics, an election that is democracy versus anti-democracy. Some Trump supporters believe this is an election that’s about the border and about the economy, and they paint the United States under President Biden as a Third World country.

DEADLINE: Given that cameras are not likely to be allowed in the courtroom in the New York case [scheduled to start March 25], how will you cover it to make it compelling to the viewer?

COSTA: The responsibility of the press is to get the details right and to help viewers and readers understand the differences on the legal front. What Trump is facing with the hush-money payments is different than what he is facing with the civil fraud trial and the penalty of hundreds of millions of dollars just weeks ago, and that all is different from what special counsel Jack Smith is doing on the federal level with January 6th and classified records. And all of that is different from what’s going on in Georgia with the election-interference investigation, being led by district attorney Fani Willis. There are so many different neighborhoods in the Trump legal story that it’s become so critical for reporters like myself to be careful, patient and clear when we’re talking about Trump legal issues so the viewer and the reader can discern what’s at stake, what’s actually going on and what it all means. And to do that, you have to sometimes catch yourself and make sure you’re not wading into legal language that’s confusing but giving a synopsis or a report [that] coherently communicates the story.

DEADLINE: Do you think that Trump has an advantage in any way with the New York legal case, given that cameras likely won’t be there, but he will be able to come out and make statements and give his version of events?

COSTA: Trump has used the court appearances throughout this 2024 race as an opportunity for him to speak his mind, Outside the courtroom, sometimes inside the courtroom. Trump’s allies tell me he often seems to get more traction from remarks he makes outside of the courtroom than remarks he makes it a political rally. As reporters, we need to be cognizant of how Trump sees the campaign trail and the courtroom as one and the same. And the court stories are not just isolated legal stories, they are politically charged stories as well. And that’s going to be an important part of the coverage, to look at the political consequences and fallout and the political shades that go over these legal issues.

DEADLINE: How do you cover this polarization that might be at an unprecedented level? Do you feel any kind of responsibility to try to tone things down?

COSTA: It’s our job to tell the truth, but to tell the truth doesn’t mean you have to screen the truth. It means you need to state it clearly, report the story and never bow down to pressure when it comes to reporting. But at CBS we pride ourselves at being an organization that is accessible to people of all political views, that provides credible information based upon reporting and forged by a legacy of news gathering that still informs us to this day. And so we are going to go stick to our old school values in a new school world using different platforms like streaming and social media. … I am confident that younger Americans are going to be going to continue to be drawn into reporting that’s nonpartisan, that’s vigorous, that tells the truth and that is civil. People are craving civil discourse, and they’re craving credible information. Every day when people pick up their phones, they’re encountering a blizzard of information, advertising, social media items. What is the role of the journalist? It is to provide new information, credibility and a guide, a guidebook for people as they navigate their decisions.

DEADLINE: There seems to be this debate going on at the networks over how much how much of Trump’s speeches to carry live before breaking away and doing a fact check in that way. What’s your view on that?

COSTA: I believe with any candidate it’s the responsibility of the journalist to step back and to evaluate whether it’s worthy of airing live or not. And that is a question we ask all the time in terms of our coverage. What’s best for the viewer? Are we confident that we’re going to provide the viewer, if you provide live content of a politician, with credible information that’s been thoroughly vetted? And regardless of the political figure, if we’re not confident about that, we might take our time to make sure that information that’s reaching our audience has been thought about, processed and reviewed by us in terms of making sure it’s credible and factual.

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