America may not want a Trump-Biden rematch, but Donald Trump and Joe Biden sure do.
A CNN poll late last year showed that 6 in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents want a different GOP nominee in 2024, and a roughly similar proportion of Democrats hope for a nominee other than Biden. Not that either man is inclined to pay any attention.
Trump wants revenge against a president who humiliated him in 2020 and who, with an approval rating in the mid-40s, would seem ripe for the picking. Biden wants to run against a persistently unpopular, controversy-plagued former president whom he beat once before and used to great effect as a foil in the 2022 midterms.
Trump’s best argument is that his policies were better than Biden’s. Biden’s best argument is that he’s not Trump.
It’s the weirdest, and most dispiriting, symbiotic relationship in politics. It’s the career politician soaked in conventional politics versus the upstart developer with zero respect for rules. The establishmentarian versus the populist. Boring versus erratic. And … unpopular versus unpopular, as well as, now that you mention it, old versus old.
If Biden stepped aside, Trump might feel a little less driven to run, whereas if Trump declined to run, Democrats would have to be a lot more nervous about how Biden would match up against a younger, less toxic GOP opponent.
As it is, the weakness of each is a motivator and prop for the other.
Just consider the latest news: It’s probably a good rule of thumb not to run a presidential candidate who’s under federal investigation for mishandling classified documents.
But does that rule still hold when your candidate could well be running against another candidate also under federal investigation for mishandling classified documents?
These are the imponderables that a potential Biden-Trump rematch presents.
Both can point fingers at the other for his respective lapses in storing classified documents, and try to argue, in effect, “Hey, your special-counsel investigation is much worse than my special-counsel investigation.”
Trump tucked into this argument in his characteristic fashion. In a Truth Social post, he mocked Biden for having classified documents “on the damp floor” of his “flimsy, unlocked, and unsecured” garage, whereas Mar-a-Lago is “a highly secured facility, with Security Cameras all over the place.” (Of course, Biden famously insisted that his garage was locked — he has a classic Corvette to protect, after all).
Biden’s team and allies have made the opposite case that, in contrast to Trump, his mistakes were inadvertent and immediately reported to authorities who could take the appropriate steps, whereas Trump resisted returning the files for months.
Regardless of the merits, there’s no doubt that Biden’s possession of classified documents materially assists Trump in his case; it might save him from indictment.
By the same token, Trump’s possession of classified documents materially assists Biden in his case; the discovery of the documents in Biden’s various unsecure locations may be a fiasco, but not one as drawn-out and legally fraught as the Mar-a-Lago drama.
It’s a little like both parties running candidates in the 1972 campaign who had authorized break-ins, or in a 1980 campaign who had presided over double-digit inflation.
Biden can lean on Trump in a similar fashion on all sort of other matters. Biden hasn’t lived up to his billing as a normal president, but the most prominent Republican alternative is dining with antisemites and musing about suspending the Constitution. Biden is a gaffe machine, but so is his adversary. Biden would be 82 years old if inaugurated in 2025; Trump would be 78.
The midterms were proof of concept for the proposition that Biden can use Trump and a Trumpified Republican Party to get the voting public to tolerate or look beyond his own failings. This is a playbook that would be much more difficult to run against Ron DeSantis or other potential Republican nominees.
Now, it’s entirely possible that the second season of Trump versus Biden never makes it to production. Despite all signs indicating that he wants to run again, Biden might pull up short because he doesn’t feel up for it. For his part, Trump has a significant chance of winning the Republican nomination, yet it isn’t a gimme, and it shouldn’t help him that Biden and the Democrats so obviously want to run against him, just as they wanted to run against so many of his acolytes last November.
If the prospect of returning to 2020 is unappealing, look on the bright side: We never really left.
Trump has never let us forget that he lost to Biden (although he prefers to refer to it as getting the election stolen from him), while Biden has never let us forget that Trump is waiting in the wings.
Despite their enmity, both men want and need each other politically, whether that’s what the country is interested in or deserves or not.