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What Can Biden Do With Trump Stuck in Court? Go Everywhere Else.

“Someone once told me that when your opponent is busy painting themselves into a corner, don’t offer them a bigger brush,” said a strategist close to the Biden campaign.

On Tuesday morning, former President Donald Trump returned to a Manhattan courthouse for the second full day of his criminal trial.

At around the same time, President Joe Biden boarded Air Force One for a trip to Scranton, Pennsylvania, to debut a campaign promise to create a fairer tax code.

Expect more days like this throughout the weeks that Trump’s first trial rolls on.

“This week’s split screen sells itself. On one screen, the president of the United States is making clear he wants to cut taxes for the middle class. On the other, a criminal defendant is on trial for breaking the law,” said Eric Schultz, a trusted Biden campaign ally and an Obama White House alum. “You don’t have to be Larry Sabato to recognize the value of that contrast for Democrats. November is going to boil down to a battle between who voters think has their back. The visuals of this week could not make that more clear.”

Democrats are testing ways to take advantage of Trump’s never-happened-before trial this week, which could be but the first of several stretches this year when Trump is trapped in a courtroom most of the day, most days. The plan so far, Biden insiders say: Don’t talk about the trial directly, just let voters see the president on the trail, talking about issues. Also known as that thing Trump can’t do right now.

You don’t have to be longtime political analyst Larry Sabato to explain this idea. You could even be his longtime colleague at the UVA Center for Politics, Kyle Kondik.

“It may or may not be the case that campaign events matter, but they’re also one of the few things a candidate can control (how much or how little he or she campaigns),” he emailed NOTUS. “Biden’s been doing more lately and that likely will continue so long as Trump is in court.”

The court case is dominating news coverage and political chatter, a situation unlikely to change for weeks. Many Democrats don’t really want it to.

“Someone once told me that when your opponent is busy painting themselves into a corner, don’t offer them a bigger brush,” said a Democratic strategist close to the Biden campaign. “Just let him be.”

In more direct terms: “Team Biden is letting him dig his own grave here,” Democratic strategist Jim Messina said. “It’s smart for the campaign to focus on the issues that matter to voters and not give any fodder to the MAGA argument that this trial is political.”

So, beyond a recent quippy press release throwing subtle jabs at Trump over his predicament, it’s unlikely the campaign will bring up the trial at all.

One small part of what makes this moment distinct is there are no video cameras in the court, so it’s not as simple as the Biden campaign cutting a clip of Trump glaring at the judge and blasting it around on X.

“I think we should just be showing clips of Donald Trump, and we can show clips of Donald Trump taking credit for overturning Roe v. Wade,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren told NOTUS. “We can show clips of Donald Trump as he shows up for trial under one of his 92 indictments. Donald Trump gives us plenty just to show and tell.”

A criminal trial is a unique hurdle for a major party’s presidential nominee. Democrats said they don’t need to crank up the drama when it’s already at 11.

“I’m a former prosecutor,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “I let the courts and the juries speak for themselves.”

Also, there are pitfalls to playing up the trial on the campaign trail.

“This is not a place for politics,” said Sen. Cory Booker. “I think this is a serious thing when there’s a criminal case going on, and it should not be seen through a political lens. It should be seen through the lens of our justice system.”


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In moments when the Trump trial story is unavoidable, strategist Jesse Ferguson said Democrats need to steer the conversation to the world outside the courtroom.

“The key is in the consequences and the contrast. People know that President Trump’s crimes are bad, but they need to see why they’re bad for people like them,” he said. “Trump’s chaos, crimes and revenge would be the obsession of his administration, and that will come at the expense of everyday people. If the red phone rings at 3 a.m., he might not be able to answer because he’s used up his one phone call for the day.”

There has been one moment inside the courtroom that Democrats should play up, however, said strategist Josh Schwerin. He advised going on the attack over when Trump reportedly fell asleep during Monday’s court proceedings.

“He has made stamina and mental acuity one of the key factors in the race, and he can’t stay awake in his own criminal trial,” he said.


Evan McMorris-Santoro is a reporter at NOTUS. Nuha Dolby is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow. NOTUS’ Jasmine Wright and Alex Roarty contributed reporting.