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‘Just say nothing’: Democrats advise Biden to keep mum on Trump’s legal woes

President Biden’s campaign is betting on a repeat of 2020, when he beat then-incumbent President Trump. But 2024 will come with new and unprecedented challenges for candidate Biden, namely his predecessor’s mounting legal troubles.

For Biden, it will mean navigating the idea that his administration’s Justice Department (DOJ) is prosecuting his chief political opponent — despite trying to stay as far away from appearing to interfere with multiple probes.

That hasn’t stopped Trump and his allies from constantly accusing Biden of “weaponizing” the DOJ and FBI. But Democrats say the less Biden engages, the better, even if it means pulling some punches early on. 

“The best bet for the Biden administration is to play it by the book rather than craft a strategy to deal with the legal cases,” said Ivan Zapien, a former Democratic National Committee official. “He should handle it the same way you would hug a porcupine — carefully.”

Both the Biden campaign and White House have steered clear of addressing Trump’s indictments and other legal entanglements. They have instead criticized Trump for promoting the so-called MAGA culture wars and policies that they say are extreme and hypocritical.

Biden has gone after his predecessor in speeches and public remarks but tends to do so based on his policy stances, which Democrats say is wise at this stage. 

Careful of political optics, Democrats say Biden is showing that prosecutors in his administration are independent of partisan interference.

“I think [Biden] can still handle it the right way while also being able to make the political point,” said Eddie Vale, a longtime campaign operative and Democratic strategist. “The correct move, and also the right political move, is for him to stay totally out of it and let them do their job.”

Vale said Biden is also demonstrating a key campaign tactic by showing how he’s operating differently than the expected GOP nominee.

“Trump was the one who was willing to try and use the government to go after his political enemies,” he said. “Biden is the one who set things back to how they should operate.”

Even some Republicans critical of Trump hold that view. 

“Biden should not say one word on this,” said Doug Heye, a GOP operative. “The second he does, he politicizes the DOJ investigation. Learn from Trump’s very public mistakes with DOJ and just say nothing.”

For all the hype around the enduring power of Trumpism, some within the Democratic party still see a chance for someone else to win the nomination. That’s where things get tricky. If Trump doesn’t win and another candidate outperforms expectations in the primary, there’s a greater risk that Biden’s avoiding the issue could backfire.

“If Donald Trump loses, a Republican can say Biden was quiet,” said Michael Ceraso, a Democratic strategist who has worked for progressive presidential campaigns. 

“I can see [South Carolina Sen. Tim] Scott or [Nikki] Haley or [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis making that point and it sticking,” he said. “He can get hit for being mum in a time when we need leadership to say the hard things. It’s a risk to take.”

Right now, Democrats are happy to let Trump’s legal issues dominate the headlines. They say it also helps Biden champion the concrete accomplishments of his first term — something that serves as another contrast to his opponent, and one he couldn’t rely on in 2020.

“There are two parts to an incumbent’s campaign: telling your story and contrasting with your opponent. Job No. 1 for the Biden campaign team is telling and selling their story,” said Jim Kessler, the co-founder of the center-left group Third Way. 

“They have a remarkable record of legislative accomplishments, an economy that just won’t quit and foreign policy successes that any sitting president would envy. By the time Republicans settle on their nominee next spring, voters need to know the Biden story, chapter-and-verse,” Kessler said. “That would make Biden’s reelection chances resilient against Trump or any wild-card winner.”

While Bidenworld stays out of the fray, Trump and his allies aren’t backing down from their attacks on Biden’s DOJ and FBI amid pending indictments and ongoing federal investigations.

Leading the way is Trump, who called Biden the “most corrupt president” in history. He also bashed Senate Republicans for not making concerted efforts to paint Biden as corrupt, as their House GOP counterparts have.

“[W]ith all of these horrible revelations and facts, why hasn’t Republican ‘leadership’ in the Senate spoken up and rebuked Crooked Joe Biden and the Radical Left Democrats, Fascists, and Marxists for their criminal acts against our Country, some of them against me. How long does America have to wait for the Senate to ACT?” Trump said in a statement.

It’s not just Trump’s legal issues that Biden will have to deal with heading into 2024. His own son, Hunter Biden, is also facing probes by the Justice Department involving tax and gun charges. The plea deal previously reached in that case had Trump and the GOP crying foul, calling it a “sweetheart deal” compared to Trump’s cases.

With conservative Republicans fiercely on his side, Trump’s popularity with his base isn’t budging, with his legal troubles only appearing to energize that portion of the electorate going into the GOP primary. 

Polls show Trump holding a double-digit lead on DeSantis, who comes in second place. That has meant the Biden campaign has kept their focus squarely on beating the former president again in 2024 and not so much on other GOP candidates who have largely been drowned out on the campaign trail.

“Trump’s the guy, and until one of the others makes a significant dent, that’s what they’re planning on,” said one Democratic strategist familiar with the campaign, referring to the Biden team.

But, the strategist cautioned: “I’m sure they’re not letting the second and third tier be ignored.”

Source: The Hill

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