Cory Booker’s campaign of love and unity has him sitting at 2 percent in the polls. So now he’s giving tough love a try.

The New Jersey Democrat entered the presidential race promising to bridge the country’s divides and elevate its political discourse after two years of Donald Trump. But after polling in the low-single digits for months, stuck in a crowded second tier of Democratic hopefuls, Booker is starting to change his M.O.

On Monday night, he told comedian Seth Meyers he sometimes feels “like punching” the president. The senator is also going after Democratic front-runner Joe Biden more aggressively than he ever has, calling the former VP the “failed architect” of a broken criminal justice system.

He followed up Tuesday morning with a dig at Biden after he released his criminal justice plan, which notably reversed his past support for the death penalty. “It’s not enough to tell us what you’re going to do for our communities, show us what you’ve done for the last 40 years,” Booker wrote on Twitter. “You created this system. We’ll dismantle it.”

Within a few hours, the campaign erased any doubt about the intended target. “Joe Biden had more than 40 years to get this right,” Booker said in a statement. “The proud architect of a failed system is not the right person to fix it.”

The newfound pugilism is a striking departure for Booker, the charismatic onetime star mayor of Newark who’s embraced “radical love” as a political philosophy, and it offers a possible preview of next week’s Democratic debate. Kamala Harris’ surprise attack on Biden in the first debate paid off handsomely for her, and Booker desperately needs a momentum-seizing moment.

Booker’s shift also may reflect that a high-minded, above-the-fray approach simply won’t cut it in an election like this.

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