Trump says Clinton was tougher opponent than Biden would be

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By Ben Kamisar  with NBC News Politics
Image: President Donald Trump speaks to Chuck Todd on "Meet The Press."
President Donald Trump speaks to Chuck Todd on "Meet The Press."   -   Copyright  William B. Plowman NBC News

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he'd rather run for re-election against former Vice President Joe Biden than his 2016 foe, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In an exclusive interview with "Meet the Press," Trump praised Clinton as a "very tough" opponent compared to Biden, the current Democratic front-runner in the 2020 race.

"Hillary Clinton was a great candidate. She was very smart. She was very tough. She was ruthless and vicious," Trump said in the interview, which was taped on Friday.

"I would actually rather run against Biden."

"Sleepy Joe. He's sleepy. She was not sleepy," he added, echoing his nickname for Biden.

The president has focused much of his criticism on Biden during the early months of the campaign, particularly as the former vice president has framed his candidacy as a direct rebuke of Trump.

Internal Trump campaign polling reported by NBC News last week shows Biden leading Trump across 11 key states.

Clinton is not running for president in 2020, but told News 12 in New York earlier this year that "I'm going to keep on working and speaking and standing up for what I believe."

With more than seven months to go before the Iowa Caucuses, Biden has led virtually every poll of the Democratic presidential field. But the former vice president has had a bumpy past few weeks, highlighted by the recent controversy of him evoking his relationship with segregationists that he worked with in the Senate decades ago.

Trump spoke at length about his 2016 race during the "Meet the Press" interview, saying he outworked Clinton in the swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, which helped him win the White House.

He also downplayed losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes by arguing he didn't campaign in highly populated states like California and New York. And he again raised unfounded claims about "illegal voting" that aided Clinton in winning the popular vote.

The president also made clear that he wants his 2016 running mate, Vice President Mike Pence, to reprise his role during the 2020 campaign. When asked whether Pence would be on the ticket, Trump replied "100 percent, yes," praising Pence as a "terrific vice president" and "my friend."

Trump recently demurred when asked in an interview on Fox News to endorse Pence to succeed him, but the president told NBC he only hesitated because that election is "so far out."

"That would be the only reason. Now, what happens in 2024? I don't know that Mike is going to run. I don't know who's running or anything else," he said.

And while the president sometimes makes references to staying in office for more than two terms, he said those comments are only a "joke."