Will Biden’s Low-Key Approach To Trump’s Indictments Pay Off?

President Joe Biden’s hands-off attitude to his chief rival’s four criminal indictments is an approach that some top Democrats feel is a potential missed opportunity, NBC News reported Sunday.

The president has rarely acknowledged the sprawling criminal cases that are currently ensnaring his chief 2024 rival, and avoids mentioning Trump even in conversations with donors. In early August, both the White House and the Biden campaign declined to comment on Trump’s indictment on federal charges relating to his attempt to overturn the 2020 election. The day after Trump was arrested in Georgia a few weeks later, the Biden campaign released an ad in battleground states that was exclusively focused on abortion.

Some Democrats think Biden should more explicitly engage in the former president’s legal issues, especially with Trump and Biden virtually tied in the polls and Trump attacking him at every turn. “What Trump has done is so egregious, so beyond the pale that I think we all have to take a very firm and aggressive and hostile stand against him,” former Ohio Democratic Representative Tim Ryan told NBC. “There needs to be a unifying approach here.”

Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha, who served as a senior aide on Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, praised the president’s messaging strategy but admitted that Biden and his aides are “banking on Trump making his own contrast” with the current president.

There’s certainly evidence supporting Biden’s decision to avoid the appearance of undue influence on the Justice Department by remaining silent on the cases. According to a Politico Magazine/IPSOS poll from earlier this month, a majority of Americans—including two-thirds of independents—think the DOJ’s indictment was based on “a fair evaluation of the evidence and the law.” More voters believe the Trump administration weaponized the DOJ than the Biden administration, and Trump’s conduct in criminal cases is rated far less favorably by voters than that of Biden and DOJ officials.

“When a train wreck is occurring, you don’t need someone standing off to the side saying, ‘Look at that train wreck.’ It’s obvious,” said Democratic strategist Tom Bonier. Focusing on policy issues and attacking “Republican extremists” is a better strategy than wading into the minutiae of Trump’s legal cases, he said.

Biden aides say that a core element of the president’s strategy this year is to focus on convincing voters of the strength of his economy, as polls show voter perceptions remaining stubbornly low on the issue. On Sunday, Biden published an op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel touting his economic achievements. “Bidenomics is working in Wisconsin,” he wrote. “We’re investing in American workers.”

“He’s being present this year. He’s talking about his accomplishments and his vision,” a Biden adviser said. “That’s the main focus.” The campaign’s plan, according to NBC, is to “take this approach through 2023, then lean in more to being a candidate in 2024.” It’s a strategy that would mirror the approach taken by former president Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.

There will, however, be somewhat of a messaging shift after Labor Day, according to one presidential advisor. But that doesn’t mean Biden will begin talking more about the Trump prosecutions. A Democrat close to his campaign told Politico Playbook Sunday not to expect “changes on how we [don’t] speak about legal issues.” Instead, Biden is likely to lean into the message of “defending democracy”—a central plank of his campaign launch video, which opened with footage of the January 6th attack but did not mention Trump by name.

Trump’s next legal challenge will come in October, when the former president and his sons Eric and Don Jr. are expected to stand trial for alleged civil fraud in New York. The state’s Attorney General Letitia James is seeking a $250 million judgment and says the family created false valuations of assets.

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