By Philip Wegmann for RealClearPolitics
The political landscape shifted this week.
A black hole opened up at Mar-a-Lago and started swallowing up the entire country the moment FBI agents raided the president’s Florida home, reportedly in search of classified documents that the former president improperly took with him from the White House.
It was unprecedented, of course. No such warrant has been served on a former president previously. And it was unexpected. Trump was in Manhattan when federal agents arrived. President Biden, the White House later told reporters, learned of the raid like the rest of the country. That is, from the news media. But mostly, and perhaps paradoxically, it was very good news for both men.
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That’s because Trump and Biden very much want to run against one another again. The raid, which both say they played no hand in, makes that possibility seem much more likely.
Outside of the possible legal ramifications, the raid was an unqualified success for the former president. Trump was transformed, overnight, from liability to martyr. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a staunch ally, went first when he warned Attorney General Merrick Garland to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar.” And then, one-by-one, potential 2024 competitors rallied to Trump’s defense.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the one Republican whom Trump World truly fears, wrote that the raid was “another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the runner-up to Trump in the 2016 GOP primaries, compared the actions of the FBI to Nixon’s weaponization of the Department of Justice. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem argued that “using the criminal justice system in this manner is un-American.”
This was more than the normal closing of the ranks. That much was clear when Mike Pence, the former vice president who refused to go along with Trump’s plan to throw out the election results and who has White House ambitions of his own, expressed “deep concern” over FBI actions at Mar-a-Lago.
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The former president’s allies are now encouraging him to move quickly. Trump told members of the Republican Study Committee that he “has made up his mind” about his long-teased run, and the leader of that committee, Rep. Jim Banks, later reported that they encouraged him to “get the decision out sooner rather than later.”
A former prominent GOP official previously told RealClearPolitics that “Trump’s perfect scenario looks like him announcing, getting an early bump in the polls, and coasting to the nomination without having to do any debates or striving that hard.” A month later, all his potential contenders aren’t planning his demise. They are rushing to television interviews and Twitter to defend him.
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That same official told RCP that while the path hasn’t been “totally cleared,” the FBI raid “has galvanized Trump and his base more than anything in the past year. This also gives him something to talk about that is forward looking, instead of harping on 2020.”
But all this is also a win for the current president. Biden and his political advisers want a rematch with Trump for the simple reason that they are convinced they can win a rematch with Trump. They are desperately rooting for a 2024 Trump presidential run.
“We pray he will,” said state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina Democrat. Husband to the current U.S. ambassador to Slovenia and a friend of Biden’s since the 1980s, he told RCP that the former president “embodies everything we need in a Republican candidate” and predicted that “Biden is going to beat Trump if he runs in 2024.”
Biden has said just about the exact same thing. “I’m not predicting,” Biden told an Israeli journalist last month, when asked if he expected a Trump-Biden rematch. “But I would not be disappointed.” And he does seem to relish the idea of a proper presidential race in 2024, one that isn’t constrained by a pandemic and defined by a virtual campaign trail. When David Muir brought up that possibility last December, Biden teased, “You’re trying to tempt me now!”
This is more than bravado. Public polling hasn’t been encouraging for Biden, but when the questions involve Trump, the numbers seem to indicate a path for Democrats to hold the White House. Anatole Jenkins, chief of staff for the Democratic National Committee, reacted to ugly presidential approval numbers in last month’s New York Times/Siena College poll by focusing on this dynamic specifically.
“Biggest take away,” he wrote, as others focused on the president’s less-than-stellar approval numbers in that poll, “Biden beats Trump. Eye on the ball, folks.” And that was true. In a Biden-Trump rematch, Democrats hold the White House by a vote of 44 to 41%.
Of late, down-ballot Democrats have even been boosting MAGA-type candidates in Republican primaries, in hopes of elevating opponents that are easier to beat. They intervened on behalf of Kari Lake in Arizona and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, and then they went to work condemning both gubernatorial nominees as existential threats to democracy itself.
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Hoping for Trump himself though, that makes Biden World feel a little queasy. Ted Kaufman, a longtime Biden confidant and former Delaware senator, told the Washington Post that Biden believes that Trump “is the best option.” Of course, there is a risk, he added. “But the primary thing is, how will he feel if he doesn’t do it and if Trump gets elected president? This would be very, very bad for the country, and did I do all I could to stop this from happening?”
Democrats are not the only ones who are afraid. A creeping fear on the right now threatens to become the congealed conventional wisdom: If Biden was the only Democrat who could defeat Trump in 2020 then Trump may very well be the only Republican who could lose in 2024.
“If you’re a Republican, you would have to be galactically stupid to assess this any other way,” said GOP strategist Scott Jennings. An alum of the George W. Bush White House, Jennings told RCP last month that “if we nominate anybody but Trump, and they nominate Biden, we will win the White House.” But he added, “if we nominate Trump again, there is a really good chance that somehow, someway, the least popular president in American history would get reelected.”
For Biden then, anything that brings Trump one step closer to the Republican nomination, at least according to conventional liberal wisdom, is one more positive for him keeping the Oval Office.
All of this may be crude political analysis at a moment when pundits and politicians are increasingly throwing around words like “banana republic.” But crass political motivations may explain why the mysteries of the Mar-a-Lago raid continue. Trump has a strong incentive to keep the drama going. Biden, who has repeatedly stressed the importance of an independent DOJ and who did not have prior warning of the FBI raid, also stands to benefit.
Syndicated with permission from Real Clear Wire.
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