A month into the presidency, Joe Biden enjoys relatively high approval ratings, but not everything has gone smoothly.
One of his Cabinet picks appears nearly sunk. His reopening schools initiative is a mess both as a policy and with messaging. His left flank is mad at him for not pushing for higher student debt loan forgiveness and the right so far has denied him of any bipartisan support for a COVID relief bill, which still hasn’t been voted on by either the full House or Senate.
But propping up Biden is his political best friend: Donald Trump, who just doesn’t stop being in the news.
In the last 72 hours, we learned that Trump will reemerge for an appearance at the CPAC conference later this month, where he is expected to give a show of force that he is the party’s presumptive 2024 presidential nominee should he decide to run. He may also give a keynote address at an upcoming Republican National Committee meeting. And the US Supreme Court cleared the way for Trump’s tax returns to be released to New York state investigators.
Every single time that Trump is in the news it both divides Republicans on whether the party should continue to embrace him or move on, and it frames Biden’s presidency in terms of simply who he is not: Trump.
In other words, it seems as though Trump is not planning on going away any time soon. That is a situation that could be perfectly fine with Biden.
Consider what has happened with Trump looming around in the news. There was an impeachment trial that, again, made Biden look more presidential and created political space to move the COVID relief deal forward.
There is also the fact that the House Republican caucus took votes in recent weeks that were set up to rebuke two of their own — one from the moderate wing and the other from the more Trump-y base. Trump has also suggested he would begin weighing in on the GOP primary challenges that have recently sprung up.
It’s important to remember that political attention is a zero-sum game. While there are many issues and many concerns, there can only be one topic, say, on cable news discussed in a particular moment. If that moment is about Trump and not about debating Biden, then that is a win for Biden. For example, the Trump tax returns case is taking up space in the political conversation that could have been devoted to Neera Tanden, who is increasingly unlikely to be confirmed by the Senate to serve as the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
While Tanden’s future in the Biden administration is unclear, the tax decision for Trump is clear. The tax returns themselves may not become public, but the investigation from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. will continue. And that means likely even more stories about Trump in the future.
It’s unclear whether Biden buys into this premise that he benefits. At a CNN town hall meeting last week, Biden referred to Trump as “the former guy,” and said, “For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump. The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people.”
There’s no doubt Trump could get in the way, particularly on a big policy rollout or to keep Republicans from joining Biden in reaching a bipartisan deal. But Biden should remember that simply “not being Trump” was a key factor in how he was elected president in the first place. Further, if a Suffolk University/USA Today poll released Sunday is to be believed, almost half of Republicans would abandon their party if Trump formed a different one, a situation that would almost ensure Biden wins reelection, should he decide to run.
Biden cannot really keep Trump from making news. So he might as well just roll with it.