If you’re a Democratic partisan, things are tough right now. Voter disapproval of President Joe Biden is near an all-time high. In head-to-head general election matchups with his Republican rivals, he’s usually trailing or tied. But this week offered a useful reminder that there is hope for fretful Democrats — and his name is Donald Trump.
If current polling is any prediction, Trump will almost certainly face off against Biden next November. And while the prospect of another Trump presidency is enough to make Democrats (and anyone who looks positively upon American democracy) cower in fear, Trump continues to offer the best hope for another Biden term in office.
This week alone, his criminal lawyers went to federal court and argued that a president has near complete immunity from crimes committed in office. Only a president, they asserted, who has first been impeached by the House and then convicted by the Senate can be charged and prosecuted for a crime committed while in office.
This led to an inevitable question from one of the three federal appellate judges conducting the hearing: “Could a president who ordered SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival and is not impeached, would he be subject to criminal prosecution?”
According to Trump’s lawyer, D. John Sauer, the answer is: only if he were impeached and convicted first.
Let’s put aside for a moment the legal insanity of this argument, which is akin to arguing that the president can only be held accountable for criminal offenses in office if two-thirds of the Senate agrees.
From a political perspective, this is an even more insane argument. Next fall, Joe Biden can run ads claiming that Trump believes he has the right to kill his political rivals — and they would be 100% true. One has to imagine that outside the MAGA cult, there are a few Americans who might find the idea of an unaccountable political leader a tad unnerving.
But what’s even crazier about these comments is that, arguably, they were only the second-worst political gaffe committed by Trump this week.
At a Fox News town hall Wednesday, Trump was asked about the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which was made possible by three justices he appointed to the Supreme Court. “I did it,” Trump crowed. “I’m proud to have done it. … It was a miracle.”
There is, quite simply, no greater political vulnerability for Republicans right now than abortion. The issue has motivated Democratic partisans, expanded the gender gap in American politics and, arguably, was the main reason Democrats overperformed in the 2022 midterm elections and the 2023 off-year elections.
And on Wednesday night, Trump didn’t just lean into the issue. He gave it a bear hug. There is perhaps no greater gift that Trump can give to his political opponents than trumpeting his role in overturning Roe v. Wade. One can fully expect to see this quote appear in millions of dollars’ worth of campaign ads this fall.
All of this is a long way of pointing out that Trump is, for Democrats, the political gift that keeps on giving. He is a politician and man of such poor impulse control and so prone to self-aggrandizement that he simply can’t help but make dumb, politically inadvisable statements.
Or, as was the case in his Monday court hearing, Trump will find himself in scenarios in which the political takeaways will be wholly negative.
Lest we forget, Trump is facing four criminal indictments. More likely than not, several of these trials — perhaps all of them — will begin this year. That means that throughout 2024, as Trump is seeking another term in office, nightly newscasts, social media feeds and newspaper headlines will be filled with a steady drumbeat of stories about Trump’s efforts to undo the 2020 election results, foment an insurrection, put his Vice President Mike Pence’s life in danger, mishandle classified information, cover up extramarital affairs and so on. For the past few months, Trump has remained competitive in the presidential race as his legal issues took a back seat. But those issues will be front and center throughout 2024.
Cynics will argue that Trump is immune from a traditional political backlash and that no matter what he does — whether it’s shooting someone on Fifth Avenue or giving himself carte blanche to kill his political rivals — his supporters will stick with him. All that is likely true. Trump has an unusually high political floor.
But there are also a great many Americans who would sooner cut off their arm than vote for Trump and plenty of others who find him appalling. All it takes is a small percentage of those who might consider a vote for Trump to cast their lot with Biden. Trump’s high floor is matched by a low ceiling — and that ceiling will keep falling as long as Trump keeps saying dumb things about abortion and his lawyers beclown themselves and their client in court. Yes, there are reasons for Biden supporters to be concerned about 2024, but there’s also one big reason to feel pretty good.