The Biden-Trump Foot-Shooting Contest

January 11, 2024

Voters don’t like either party’s presidential front-runner, and it’s little wonder why. But that leaves a larger question: If there’s a Biden-Trump contest, who will have made himself more odious by November?

Right now, the two men are in a dislikability dead heat: The RealClearPolitics polling average says 55.6% of Americans view President Biden unfavorably to 55.3% for Donald Trump. It’s for reasons that are unlikely to change. An Aug. 14 Associated Press/NORC poll found the most common words voters use to describe Mr. Biden are “old/outdated/aging/elderly” and Mr. Trump’s are “corrupt/criminal/crooked.”

A Biden-Trump rematch would likely be decided by who commits fewer unforced errors. So events this past week should unsettle both campaigns—Mr. Trump’s because he keeps reopening an old wound, Mr. Biden’s because of bloody gashes his friends created.

First Mr. Trump. By the time he arrived at Saturday’s Clinton, Iowa, rally, the venue was rocking. “The polls are showing we’re going to win by a lot,” he crowed, urging supporters to “get out and . . . vote, vote, vote.” He did his greatest hits—attacking the media, listing his accomplishments, decrying Mr. Biden’s failed presidency, and knocking the stuffing out of Republican competitors and detractors. The crowd lapped it up.

Then, about 33 minutes in, he shot himself in the foot by yet again bringing up Jan. 6. This time, he went to a new extreme: calling for the pardon of those now serving time for their part in the Capitol riot. “They ought to release the J-6 hostages, they’ve suffered enough,” he said to cheers. “Some people call them prisoners,” the ex-president said. “I call them hostages.” 

This was grotesque, especially given that actual hostages are held today by Hamas. And though it got cheers in Clinton, it probably turned off most voters. Seventy-three percent of respondents told a Dec. 18 Washington Post/University of Maryland poll that they think “punishments for people who broke into the Capitol” were either “not harsh enough” (38%) or “fair” (35%).

The more Mr. Trump hypes his Jan. 6 catch-and-release program, the more he makes that violent day a key consideration for the independent and undecided voters he needs to beat Mr. Biden. 

Imagine the Democratic ads if Mr. Trump is the GOP nominee. There will be scenes of Capitol police being beaten bloody, sprayed with chemical agents and assaulted with their own shields and batons as a rioter screams, “Kill them all!” Americans will be treated to the confessions of the roughly 730 Jan. 6 convicts who pleaded guilty, and the media will spotlight the legal travails of the 330 or so yet to be tried. 

Law-enforcement veterans of the riot will shadow Mr. Trump on the campaign trail, sharing their experiences and asking why the former president would pardon people who committed violence in his name.

Mr. Trump’s only hope is that Mr. Biden looks somehow worse. Which, judging from how the president’s friends damaged him this past week, could well happen.

The first round of friendly fire was Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s failure to alert the White House that he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer in early December and then, after complications, put into intensive care this month, making him unable to fulfill his official responsibilities. To make an irresponsible decision look downright negligent, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks was vacationing in Puerto Rico when she assumed some of his operational duties on Jan. 2 and didn’t learn for days that her boss was in the Walter Reed Medical Center ICU.

While the onus for all this lies with Mr. Austin, the mess makes the Biden White House look disorganized and the Pentagon badly run during a dangerous period for the world.

Read More at the WSJ

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