Feb 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

The new urgency behind Trump's political flexing

Donald Trump, wearing a blue suit, white shirt and blue tie. points at someone from behind a podium.

Photo: David Becker/Getty Images

Former President Trump is flexing his political power this week, a sign of his campaign's new urgency as it’s increasingly likely he could be tried on felony charges before the November election.

Why it matters: It's not just Trump's command to congressional Republicans to kill the bipartisan border bill — which they quickly did. Trump rapidly has made a series of moves that emphasize his domination of the GOP.

  • He's also expressing a desire to not just damage President Biden, but to damage him now — as if the election were next week, rather than Nov. 5.

Zoom in: On Monday, Trump — who has avoided debating any of his foes for the Republican nomination — challenged Biden to debate "now," implying there was no time to waste.

  • After Biden passed on doing an interview with CBS as part of the network's Super Bowl broadcast on Sunday, Trump volunteered. "I WOULD BE HAPPY TO REPLACE HIM — would be "RATINGS GOLD!" he posted on Truth Social.
  • Trump also has indicated he favors a shake-up at the Republican National Committee, and that RNC chair Ronna McDaniel should be replaced.
  • Late Tuesday, the New York Times reported that McDaniel plans to step down — and that Trump favors replacing her with Michael Whatley of North Carolina's GOP, who supported Trump's claims of election fraud in 2020.

Zoom out: For more than three years, Trump has been driven by a thirst for revenge against Biden. But the urgency he's showing also comes as his legal challenges are ratcheting up.

  • A D.C. appeals court on Tuesday unanimously rejected his argument that he should have immunity from charges in the Jan. 6 case, in which federal prosecutors allege he tried to overturn the 2020 election results.
  • It was a blow to Trump's contention that a president can't be held criminally liable for things he did in office. Some legal observers said the emphatic ruling left no guarantee that the conservative-led Supreme Court will come to Trump's rescue, as he has implied.

As Axios has reported, Trump knows there is a real possibility that he could be the first convicted felon in U.S. history to lead a major party into a presidential election. The odds of that scenario playing out increased with Tuesday's ruling.

  • The implications could be huge: Several polls have indicated that if convicted, Trump could lose enough votes to tip the election to Biden.

Between the lines: Over the next several months, Trump could wind up spending a lot of his campaign time in court, if the Jan. 6 case and any of the three other felony cases against him move forward.

  • Trump's campaign is wary of the competing demands on Trump's time — and eager to get Republicans united behind him immediately.
  • Trump's team sees Nikki Haley's decision to stay in the GOP race as an annoyance because it's forced Trump to campaign in Nevada and South Carolina.
  • The campaign did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The other side: Biden's team is relishing a one-on-one showdown with Trump, whom the president privately has called a "sick f**k," according to Politico.

  • The president's campaign is seeking to turn the likely matchup into a comparison between Biden and Trump — rather than a referendum on Biden's presidency at a time when his popularity numbers are sagging.
  • But Biden doesn't appear overly eager to debate Trump.
  • "Well, if I were him, I'd want to debate me, too," Biden told reporters in Las Vegas when asked about Trump's taunt. "He's got nothing else to do."
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