Opinion | Joe Biden Knows How to Use Donald Trump

Then there are the unusual consequences of the Trump presidency, which reverberate throughout our politics. The Jan. 6 investigation is ongoing, and the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago to recover classified documents Trump allegedly inappropriately took. (For his part, Trump recently told Sean Hannity that the president can release documents “even if he thinks about it,” which, sigh.)

Trump also bears responsibility for some of the lackluster candidates causing such problems for Republicans. Trump has pushed JD Vance in Ohio and Herschel Walker in Georgia and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania – all of whom are underperforming in their respective matchups. In a speech to the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Mitch McConnell admitted that Republicans might not turn the Senate around, noting sharply, “The quality of the candidates has a lot to do with the outcome.”

However, Trump’s efforts to stay in the news will be outpaced by Biden’s efforts to stay out of it. Biden gives shockingly few interviews and press conferences. He’s not into attention-grabbing stunts or high-engagement tweets. I’m not always sure if this is strategy or necessity: it’s not obvious to me that the Biden team trusts him to use face-to-face meetings and press conferences to his advantage. But perhaps the difference is academic: good strategy sometimes emerges from an unwanted reality.

Biden just doesn’t take up much space in the political discourse. He is a far less central, compelling and controversial figure than Trump, Obama or Bush were before him. He has achieved a surprising amount in the last few months, but then fades into the background again. That, too, is a choice: Biden could easily garner more attention simply by trying to garner more attention. When he picks a fight, as he did last month in his Philadelphia speech on Trump, the MAGA movement and democracy, the fight joins. He just doesn’t do it often.

Which doesn’t mean Biden isn’t doing anything. He governs. Just this week, Biden pardoned all federal convictions for simple marijuana possession. Before that, he canceled hundreds of billions of dollars in student debt (although legal and administrative issues continue to swirl around that plan). He signed the Anti-Inflation Act. But then he goes on. He doesn’t want to turn his political ideas into culture wars.

Biden didn’t win the 2020 Democratic nomination because he was the most exciting candidate or because he had legions of die-hard supporters. The most common argument for Biden was that other people would find him acceptable. And that has come true. Biden managed to assemble an unusually broad coalition of people who feared Trump and thought Biden was, uh, good. This strategy called for restraint. Many politicians would have fought with Trump for the election. Biden held back and let Trump make the choice over himself.

I suspect that’s one of the reasons Biden’s approval rating is and has been weak. Biden’s appeal to Democrats was more transactional than inspirational. You don’t have to love or even really like Biden to support him. You must believe in him as a means to stop something worse. That still applies today.

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