Why Biden has to stay quiet about the biggest news story in politics
Trump has been indicted and Biden will be pressed for a response. Dems think he should keep it boring.
If he gloats or opines, he could be viewed as interfering and his words could backfire on him.
"Don't say a word," one Democratic consultant said. "Let Trump steep in his own juices."
Given the rancor between the current president and his predecessor, Joe Biden may be tempted to celebrate Donald Trump becoming the first former president to get slapped with an indictment.
Biden could certainly high-five First Lady Jill Biden in private. But in public, there are myriad reasons why Democrats hope Biden will play this unprecedented event in about as boring a way as possible.
If he gloats or opines, Biden could be viewed as interfering in the legal system or using it for political purposes against a former and potential future rival – exhibiting an approach to law enforcement that Biden promised to reverse when running for president. His words could also backfire on him, as they have in the past.
"Don't say a word," is the advice from Democratic pollster and consultant Brad Bannon. "Let Trump steep in his own juices."
Another Democratic consultant, Josh Schwerin said Biden should "stay above this."
"He needs to project the image of someone who is fighting for people and not meddling in the investigations against a former president, who was his political rival," said Schwerin, a former spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Hillary Clinton. "His voice doesn't add anything right now."
Biden's off-script adventures
A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Trump after an investigation that was said to focus on alleged hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Trump faces multiple investigations at the federal and state level that could also result in charges against him as he runs for reelection in 2024.
Biden made his animosity toward Trump clear in a pointed speech in Philadelphia before the midterm elections, saying "Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic."
But he has also pledged to restore respect for the rule of law and independence to the Department of Justice after Trump "corrupted" the department for his political bidding.
Biden undoubtedly will be asked for a response to the indictment in every interaction he has with reporters. He should quickly remind people of his decision to stay out of investigations and not get into specifics, said Matt Lehrich, a former Obama White House spokesperson who founded Be Clear Communications. Then he can draw an "implicit contrast," just by doing the work of being president.
"In doing that, it sort of reinforces this return to normalcy that's been such a core part of his message that people like about him," Lehrich said.
There still could be plenty of opportunities for Biden to get in trouble. Biden has been more rhetorically disciplined as president than he was as vice president and a senator, when his verbal gaffes were routinely used as punchlines. But he still goes off script, and sometimes that doesn't end well.
"The way I said it was not appropriate," Biden said during a 2021 CNN town hall, a week after he told reporters that the DOJ should prosecute people who defied subpoenas in the January 6 insurrection probe. "I should have chosen my words more wisely."
Schwerin, founder of Saratoga Strategies, said Biden speaks his mind and "anyone can slip."
"But he also is a fundamental believer in the sanctity of government and truly believes that the right thing to do for the president is not to get involved in something like this," he said. "So I don't think this goes against his instincts. I think it aligns with them."
The smart move would be to say he'll let the criminal justice system take its course and let Republicans fight it out, said Bannon.
"He'll probably slip and say something, but for the most part, I think that communications people can manage it," Bannon said.
Don't play into 'Trump's bogus victim routine'
Trump's likely GOP primary rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, on Monday weighed in on the New York case with a minor dig at Trump, tweaking him for his alleged affair with Stormy Daniels while also criticizing the investigation. DeSantis' political calculus, however, is "totally different" from Biden's, Lehrich said.
DeSantis doesn't care about separating politics from law enforcement, Lehrich said, and his challenge is trying to court the MAGA base while running against Trump. "He has no choice but to keep kowtowing," he said.
Meanwhile, a president opining on a prosecution can interfere with it, Lehrich said.
"It can prejudice a jury against a defendant or give the defense an argument that they are being persecuted," he said. "And in this case, it could also play into Trump's bogus victim routine."
Eric Schultz, who served as deputy White House press secretary during the Obama administration, told Insider Biden needs to stay "laser focused on what everyday people are experiencing."
"A Trump indictment, of course, presents a host of serious problems for Biden's predecessor, but the most important thing Joe Biden can do is keep being President," Schultz said.
This story was originally published on March 22, 2023.
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