A President’s Dilemma: Navigating the Legal Storm of a Predecessor
An Unprecedented Situation
As Washington becomes increasingly focused on the potential legal indictment of former President Donald Trump, current President Joe Biden has maintained a conspicuous silence. The reason is simple: there is no historical precedent or guide for what a sitting president should do if his predecessor faces criminal charges. A unique and complex situation, Biden’s strategy, thus far, has been one of deliberate non-engagement, according to Democratic strategists and sources close to the White House.
The Political Minefield
For President Biden, who may be gearing up for a re-election campaign, the potential indictment of Trump presents both opportunities and risks. Trump is viewed by many Democrats close to Biden as a likely Republican nominee for 2024 — and they believe his potential legal complications make him a desirable opponent. However, they must tread cautiously to avoid being perceived as taking undue advantage of the situation.
Political campaigns, by default, often highlight rivals’ woes, and Biden might be tempted to spotlight Trump’s legal issues. But given his current position and the independence of the Attorney General, Merrick Garland, whom he appointed and who would potentially decide on Trump’s prosecution in a separate federal investigation, he must exercise restraint.
“Any comment Biden makes about Trump’s escalating legal troubles could be seen as an attempt to influence Garland,” warned NBC News legal analyst Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney in Virginia.
Potential Backlash and the Need for Caution
Openly leveraging Trump’s predicament could also lead to political repercussions. Critics might seize the opportunity to amplify the legal scrutiny Biden faces over classified documents. Furthermore, overt comments from Biden could inadvertently support Trump’s narrative that the investigations are a disguised attempt to sabotage his presidential campaign.
“It would be prudent for Democrats to let this situation unfold without excessively politicizing it,” advised Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist and adviser to Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign.
Biden’s team argues that the impact of a Trump indictment on the upcoming election is currently uncertain. Biden’s focus will be primarily on economic issues and strengthening his budget proposals, while critiquing those of conservative Republicans, whom he believes are threatening Social Security and Medicare.
The potential of an indictment leading to civil unrest is also being closely monitored by the White House. The muted response to Trump’s recent calls for protests has reportedly relieved White House officials. Yet, some political pundits have suggested that Trump, known for defying political norms, might be the exception to the rule that indictments typically hinder candidates.
Polling from NBC News suggests that Trump’s favorability ratings remain relatively constant, irrespective of the controversy. “Trump is one of those unique politicians who you believe what you want to believe about him, whether it’s fact or fiction,” observed Amanda Loveday, an adviser to Unite the Country, a group promoting Biden’s policy agenda.
The Future of Biden’s Presidency
Biden has yet to officially declare his candidacy for 2024, and his decision could potentially be influenced by the fate of Trump’s potential run. Despite facing skepticism within his own party due to his age, many, including Carolyn Maloney, a former Democratic congresswoman from New York, believe he has earned another term.
“Biden’s achievements are remarkable,” she said. “In a time when Americans are living longer and healthier lives, his age shouldn’t be a deterrent.”
Thus, in navigating this complex situation, Biden and his team are walking a tightrope, balancing political opportunities and potential backlash, with the ultimate goal of securing his re-election.