Biden wouldn’t dare touch the politics of a criminal investigation, according to White House officials and party operatives. But at a time when most Democrats want a different nominee in 2024, the GOP’s elevation of Trump plays into the current president’s hands.
The more Democrats see Trump, the more they view Biden as their best bet for 2024, said Democratic lawmakers and operatives across the party’s ideological spectrum. One added that recent events have increased the likelihood that the president announces a re-election bid this year.
“As Trump’s stock rises in the Republican Party, so does Biden’s” with Democrats, said Brad Howard, a lobbyist and former aide to members of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition in the House. “If President Trump is still a factor, that is a continued benefit for President Biden and his case for renomination.”
The prospect of a “heavyweight fight” helps “both Biden and Trump,” added a prominent House progressive who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid upsetting liberals who aren’t thrilled with Biden. The Republican response to the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home “all but assures them both the nomination,” the lawmaker said.
The unprecedented investigation into a former president — one who is a likely candidate for his old job — creates a labyrinthine set of political risks and opportunities for Biden and Trump. For Trump, the greatest threat is becoming toxic to voters because of an indictment or conviction. Biden has to walk a tightrope between partisans who want him to ensure that Trump is prosecuted and voters who may see such a move as an abuse of power that unfairly targets a political adversary.
Biden appears to have chosen the cautious and traditional route of letting Justice Department officials speak — or act — for themselves. “It’s not even Biden’s style to use something the Justice Department does to his political advantage,” said a source close to the White House who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
By contrast, Trump frequently berated his attorneys general in public and urged them to pursue legal actions that aligned with his political interests. He blasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from a probe of Trump’s ties to Russia and for failing to charge his 2016 rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with crimes. In the waning weeks of his presidency, Trump pressured Justice Department officials to declare falsely that he was the victim of fraud when he lost the 2020 election to Biden, according to the testimony of several officials who appeared before the House committee investigating Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The question of whether Biden would explicitly politicize legal action against Trump is different from the question of whether he would benefit from a federal case against Republicans’ leading 2024 hopeful. Just as Trump understood the potential damage that could be done by an investigation — the House impeached him for withholding security funds from Ukraine to try to force a probe of Biden in that country — Biden clearly grasps that even the appearance of political interference would rob him of a key contrast with Trump.
“No good comes in inserting yourself,” Jay Jacobs, chairman of the New York Democratic Party, said. “It only diminishes the credibility of the professional investigations that are going on.”
That’s a view shared by the White House.
“He would not comment or discuss in any way whatsoever,” one White House official said of the FBI search of Trump’s home.
Biden has shown a willingness to highlight the work of the Jan. 6 committee, which has produced evidence that the Capitol riot was the culmination of Trump’s two-month campaign to overturn the 2020 election. But the Justice Department, unlike the congressional committee, is under Biden’s control, and that creates a political imperative for him to avoid appearing to point it at his enemy.
Instead, Biden’s allies at the Democratic National Committee, in Congress and in the states are hammering away at Trump. Some are publicly prodding the Justice Department to prosecute Trump. And, most important to the White House, many are tying Republicans’ defense of Trump to Biden’s case that the party is too extreme.
Biden “should and very well could” launch a campaign between the midterms and the end of the year, said the source close to the White House. The source added that Biden’s recent spate of legislative victories and executive actions, including passage of the Inflation Reduction Act Friday, are putting him on a path to run a “promises made, promises kept” campaign — the exact slogan Trump used in 2020.
At the same time, a streak of positive news for Biden — and the resurgent love Trump is feeling from Republicans — has not convinced even some of his allies that the president should seek a second term.
“I’ve got mixed emotions whether he should run or not,” said Steve Shurtleff, a New Hampshire state representative and longtime Biden backer. “He’s had a great week, but there’s a lot of pressure on being a president. He’s got a long history of service, and maybe it’s time to go back to Delaware and spend time with his wife, family and grandchildren and be thankful for what he’s accomplished.”
Shurtleff added that the pressure has been “tremendous, and even someone half his age would have problems keeping up with that pace and intensity.”
Biden, the nation’s oldest president, turns 80 in November.
One Democratic lawmaker who is close to the Biden White House has a different set of mixed feelings about the raid.
“From a Democratic perspective,” the support Trump is getting from Republicans “is really not a good thing,” the lawmaker said. On the other hand, he added, “there is the oh-by-the-way not so small matter that Trump is in greater legal jeopardy,” which could end his presidential ambitions.
This lawmaker said he has drawn the same conclusion that he did in 2017: Biden “is the best person on our side to take on Donald Trump.”
If the investigations into Trump take him off the field, Democrats may recalculate. But the more he is seen as the leader of the Republican Party heading into 2024, the more receptive Democrats are to Biden’s argument that only he can stop Trump.