WASHINGTON – When news broke earlier this month that Donald Trump wanted to represent New York, the leaders of the pro-Joe Biden group met in secret to decide what to do. Will they fire up tweets about what happened, or perhaps send an e-mail inspiring an opinion about Trump’s fate?
In the end they did nothing.
“Why get your hands dirty if you don’t have to?” A person with a family group thought, he said, to speak freely about the situation anonymously. “When you enter the ring with him” [Trump] in this capacity, you are no better than he.’
There is no philosophical reason that a former president would ever face criminal charges, let alone one who is the front runner for the GOP nomination. Without any model of a strategic Democratic ecosystem, Biden is toying with interests and outside groups on how to wring an advantage from Trump’s legal mushrooms.
They did not reach a consensus and, now they feel that they have a small moment, which presents both an opportunity and a danger on all sides, to suggest the conferences of more than a dozen political operatives. When adversaries fight, every instinct of war is the capital of mishaps. However, Trump has promised to protect himself in a legal system where Biden is presumed innocent, creating a conundrum for working-class workers to defeat Trump in 2024.
“The Democrats are a party of lawyers,” said Simon Rosenberg, the party’s longtime leader.
With more serious charges possible in the coming months, Trump’s prosecution in Manhattan may be a dry run on how Biden’s outside supporters respond. Georgia authorities are investigating Trump’s efforts to show the loss of the 2020 election and to sway the state’s election votes for Biden. At the same time, federal prosecutors are looking into Trump’s handling of the records after he left the White House along with his broader efforts to retain power despite his defeat.
The group, called Things First USA, is launching a campaign to showcase Trump’s problems with digital and social media while only congressional Republicans have elected to defend him. The group agreed to a zoom call on Tuesday to discuss the announcement after it was released Tuesday and had additional conversations about how “it can be leveraged on our goals,” said David Brock, President of Operations.
“Indicators,” he said, “are going to make a gift that the Democrats are going to give.”
Another group is trying to pin down an effective message. In anticipation of Trump’s looming announcement in New York, a coalition of liberal voters has tried various methods of legal trouble over the past month. Navigator Research polled more than a thousand pollsters — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike — to give Trump a better account of his argument that he is the victim of a “witch hunt.”
In the memorable title, “Trump’s Indictment: A Lawyer’s Guide” Navigator Research concluded that the most effective counter-argument was that “no one is above the law, not even the former president,” claiming that 61% found that idea more likely than Trump claiming political persecution.
The message also draws a useful contrast from the Democrats’ perspective. If he decides to run again, Biden is expected to portray a symbol of stability, compared to the turmoil surrounding Trump. Biden’s oft-repeated message that he is trying to restore the nation’s soul and uphold the rule of law may seem especially relevant amid the specter of a GOP presidential candidate staying out of prison.
The criminal charges that Trump will face are “just a reminder of the chaos that Trump is bringing,” said Jenn Ridder, a senior official in the Biden 2020 campaign, who is now seen as a top contender to be the new campaign manager. “Trump is chaos; President Biden is working to help the American people.
However, many in the party are holding back, preferring to keep the focus on Biden as a writer, with the belief that Trump will absorb the problems so carefully that no amplification is needed.
“This will shut down the sun and supplant all other issues for the time being,” said Zac Petkanas, a longtime Democratic strategist. “Yes, do not anticipate” [taking action] in the near term in addition to helping the media cover this properly and help them debunk the misinformation from Trump associates who are trying to minimize what is in fact a very serious criminal offense.
At his arraignment on Tuesday, Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to payments made in 2016 to women who alleged past encounters with then-presidential candidate Trump. Trump has consistently denied wrongdoing and fought back.
For Democrats, another complication is the belief among some within the party that the impeachment of Trump will not do much harm. There were details of the pay-for-silence allegations broadly known for five years.
“There’s a realization on the Democratic side that many of Donald Trump’s character flaws are baked into a cake and we can get out of them with limited mileage,” Lee Smith, a Democratic strategist and adviser to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign.
But the calculation can always change depending on what happens next. Some Biden allies consider the case in Georgia more consequential. If the Fulton County district attorney files an investigation with criminal charges, they may suggest that more voters will respond to Trump’s attempts to undermine the popular will.
“The bigger issue is Georgia,” a national Democratic strategist said, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak more freely. “A reminder that voters tried to overturn the election of Donald Trump and the result of their efforts was Jan. 6,” when pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol.
(Trump said he did nothing wrong and falsely claimed to have set up a fraudulent voter in Georgia).
Inside the White House, Biden and his staff stick to a simple script: I keep quiet. Whatever Biden says about the implications of Trump’s complaint will invite meddling in multiple criminal investigations that the former president will face.
The charges announced last week in Manhattan surprised the White House. Biden’s chief of staff, Jeff Zients, warned him after he learned of the impeachment’s support from new reports, White House aides said. Privately, people close to Biden have tried to think through what the announcement could ultimately mean for the country, with the idea that a federal investigation could lead to special counsel Jack Smith. (Why this would be the case is not clear; there is no indication that Jack Smith took the statements made by the prosecution in New York).
One of the perks of essentially clearing the field in the 2024 Democratic primary is that Biden can say as much or as little as he wants, knowing that the entire party apparatus is looking out for his own interests.
As he hosts judge hearings and campaign rallies, debates and depositions, Trump will not be able to expect the same level of loyalty. Although most GOP candidates have announced their support for Trump and his impeachment is politically motivated, his most serious rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, anointed the veil to him, repeating some of the details of the serious case. “I don’t know what goes into that money to keep a porn star quiet about some alleged affair,” DeSantis said.
It would have been difficult to predict that the various parties behind Biden would have coalesced with his presidential party. The liberal wing, in particular, was horrified by Biden’s refusal to embrace a Medicare-for-all health care system. But he quelled the internal dissension.
When asked about that dynamic, Rep. Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, who is Sen. Bernie Sanders said in his 2020 presidential bid: “Who in their right mind would want to run against Donald Trump? God bless the president for wanting to run. Do you want your family to go through this against Donald Trump?”