Donald Trump increases his already overwhelming lead for the Republican nomination and is tied with President Biden in a hypothetical general election showdown, according to a recent poll.
It’s amazing given the quagmire of legal troubles Trump finds himself in, but it’s the logical outcome of a candidate who ran without strong and widespread opposition or condemnation. His opponents, for various reasons, took the strategic position of ignoring his predicament, crossing their fingers and toes that he would succumb to self-harm.
They want an avalanche of “if”. But there is no wish in this kind of battle, no victory without confrontation.
This reluctance to take on Trump has allowed him and his surrogates to develop a narrative of victimization and justified revenge while allowing the image of timidity and weakness to harden like plaster around him. his opponents.
And with this failure to engage, this campaign of cowardice, Republican voters, already enticed by Trump to disbelieve facts and believe conspiracy theories, are being deprived of any debate that might help them modulate their points. of sight.
These voters exist in a vacuum of truth, and Trump fills it with his version of the truth: the anti-truth.
But not only are most of Trump’s Republican rivals avoiding attacking him because of his various indictments, but so is his Democrat.
Joe Biden refuses to comment on them. He and his campaign have chosen to keep their distance from the chaos and not fuel Trump’s false claim that his legal troubles stem from political animosity.
This idea of dignified silence has a long political history, but its usefulness and effectiveness are unclear in a modern context. It feels a bit like “Happy Days” nostalgia in a “Walking Dead” reality.
And yet, the Biden campaign continues on its way. Last week, Biden campaign co-chair Cedric Richmond reiterated that strategy: “We’re not going to focus on Donald Trump’s legal issues. »
But Trump’s legal troubles aren’t about parking tickets or paying child support; this is an ongoing attack on our democracy, and it is difficult to understand that the candidate who is campaigning to protect our democracy does not address the great threat to this democracy.
And this threat is not just about this has happened, but what could Again arrive.
In July, The Times reported that Trump and his allies planned to “reshape the structure of executive power to concentrate far greater authority directly in his hands” if he regained the White House. Last week, the Associated Press reported that conservative groups, led by the Heritage Foundation, were drawing up plans to “dismantle the American government and replace it with Trump’s vision”, if Trump is re-elected. Last year, Trump called for the “repeal” of the Constitution to void the 2020 election.
Still, Biden adheres to a dignified silence approach, clinging almost religiously to the idea that voters will recognize and appreciate the difference between a restorer and a destroyer.
That may well be the case. The continuity of the Republic as we know it could depend on it. But it is entirely reasonable to question the merits of this approach and to be concerned about it.
During the 2019 campaign, Biden said he advised Hillary Clinton “not to bring up” the subject of Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” tape during their second general election debate, “because it only slows it down”. As Biden said, “Everybody knows who Donald Trump is.”
On the debate stage, Clinton took Biden’s soft approach. When asked about this video, Clinton gave a somewhat roundabout response, ultimately culminating in the refrain that “everyone can come to their own conclusions at this point as to whether or not the man in the video or the man on stage is respecting the women “.
But Trump went on the attack. WikiLeaks had begun leaking John Podesta’s emails, and Trump had made those emails a central argument.
And as Rolling Stone put it in 2018: “The ‘Access Hollywood’ tape made headlines for about a week; WikiLeaks, on the other hand, was a relentless stream of rumors and outlandish allegations that left conservatives in a perpetual state of fury. »
Clinton, of course, would lose this election.
The asymmetry in how Trump and his opponents interact with each other gives Trump a big advantage. It lets go of its barbs constantly and erratically, until one strikes. Its opponents continue to refuse to respond in the same way, showing respectable restraint, while accumulating political wounds.
During a Labor Day speech, which some saw as the president beginning to escalate his attacks on Trump, Biden didn’t even mention his predecessor’s name, instead referring to him repeatedly as “the last guys “.
Most of Trump’s opponents, Republicans and Democrats alike, are making a risky bet, which depends entirely on the discernment of the American voter. This might, in the end, turn out to be a brilliant tactical assessment, but I’m afraid it’s just as likely to be a tragic miscalculation.