If there’s one thing to say about media coverage of the FBI’s execution of a search warrant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mansion this past Monday, it’s that the press may have finally learned its lesson. Once upon a time—particularly during the 2016 election and the early days of the Trump administration—any bit of breaking news was treated as the inevitable crashing and burning of a house of cards. Basic decorum demanded it, after all: Donald Trump was a fraud and a criminal and, at some point, the country—and, most importantly, the Republican Party—would wake up. Access Hollywood tape? Trump is screwed. Michael Flynn got caught talking to the Russian ambassador? Trump’s cooked. Mueller investigation launched? Well, well: I’d like to see Ol’ Donny Trump wriggle his way out of THIS jam!
Trump, it turned out, was one of American politics’ great wrigglers—though much of that comes from the fact that the Republican Party has happily goose-stepped behind him from self-inflicted crisis to self-inflected-crisis-to-attempted-coup. The Department of Justice’s investigation into Trump certainly looks very bad for him, but we simply don’t know enough about it to say very much. Republicans may have worked themselves into a lather about the absolute horror of the Department of Justice enforcing basic laws about document retention and (perhaps) doing coups, but news outlets have, by and large, been relatively restrained.
But it may be time for the media to get a little more unhinged. Trump remains the clear frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination—the ongoing criminal investigation at which he finds himself the center creates powerful incentives to launch a presidential campaign. Doing so would allow him to argue that he was the victim of a political witch hunt launched by jealous rivals (though, of course, he’s already doing that). Trump’s presidential campaign has been treated as an inevitability and for good reason: He’s clearly running to get reelected president and has said nearly as much on several occasions. But, likely because of exhaustion, the pundit class hasn’t had Trump’s certain campaign at the front of their minds. But they have spent a lot of time thinking about Joe Biden running for reelection. Maybe it’s time to apply their recent thinking about Biden more consistently.
Not so long ago, the conventional wisdom was that it was time to stick a fork in Biden. The Atlantic’s Mark Leibovich argued that Biden was doing a fine enough job for now but would simply be too old to run in 2024—which, hey, fair enough. CNN’s resident font of conventional wisdom Chris Cillizza looked at some polls and found that most people did not want Biden to run again. The New York Times asked its readers what they though and received al kinds of responses, all while the paper’s reports found that “whispers” were starting to spread among Democrats who had begun looking for a successor. The Times’ edible critic Maureen Dowd urged Biden not to do it.
It was hard to fault any of these people for encouraging Biden not to run. At the time, his poll numbers were terrible (they’re still bad). He had been lead-footed in his response to predictable disasters—such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade—and slow to grasp the severity of more unpredictable ones, like inflation. He wasn’t getting anything done and his legislative agenda had been stuck in the mud for months. Most of all, he was too old and seemed physically ill-equipped to keep up with the multitude of scandals that had piled up over the previous years.
And then, like an unwelcome delivery from the metaphor store, Biden caught Covid-19. Then he recovered. Then he tested positive again. If it wasn’t for bad luck, Biden would hardly have any at all. Inflation, Ukraine, an economy that seemed poised to lurch into recession—it may have been unfair to fault Biden personally for many of these maladies, but they had an enervating effect on his presidency all the same.
But things have recently started to turn around. Biden has notched a series of legislative wins on climate change, gun control, health care, and tax enforcement. His administration killed one of the architects of 9/11. And the economy seems like it might not be heading into the toilet after all. His approval rating has lurched up—though just to around 40 percent, not anything to write home about. The biggest problem—that Joe Biden is not getting any younger—has not gone away. The questions about whether or not he should run for the good of his party and/or the country will persist. But in a town where who’s up and who’s down eternally matters, for better or for worse, Biden was at least no longer “down.” Now he was the guy notching accomplishments while recovering from Covid.
But if concerns about Biden’s readiness can fuel a summertime media boomlet, surely there is the occasion to apply some similar reasoning to Donald Trump. Trump is obviously and self-evidently wrong for public office. The sheer number of scandals during his time in office disqualify him. His plans for a second term essentially involve purging the government in some sort of Night of the Long Knives.
He is under a criminal investigation that seems more serious with each passing day and revolves around a host of crimes relating both to his attempt to illegally overturn the 2020 election and his general corruption. Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2020 election are hugely unpopular and toxic to democracy. There isn’t extensive public opinion polling about the raid yet, but there is reason to believe that the public will also view it as warranted given his general lawlessness (and his own past comments about the important of proper document retention policies). Trump, it should also be underlined, is also extremely old.
All of this would make Trump a bad candidate; he mass produces grist for hot takes about his general unfitness on a staggeringly regular basis. I almost forgot to even mention the whole thing about how his generals had to explain to him that he could not do a Hitler. Oh, and like Biden, the guy is old. So if Biden should be bowing out of his reelection race—the banner under which our heroic pundits were marching more or less in lockstep until very recently—Trump obviously shouldn’t as well. Perhaps no one wants to make this case because it’s got a a dog-bites-man level of obviousness, but it’s undoubtedly true—and will only get truer as the Department of Justice’s investigation intensifies and the president escalates his deranged responses. So let the essays flow!