Opinion | There’s a reason Biden is dancing around Trump’s most glaring weak spot

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Former President Donald Trump isn’t exactly known for having a sense of generosity. There’s one area in which he’s been extremely giving, however: providing President Joe Biden with a smorgasbord of material to dunk on him with on the campaign trail.

“If Trump’s stock in Truth Social — his company — drops any lower, he might do better under my tax plan than his,” Biden told an audience in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, smirking as he referred to the sharp downturn the right-wing social media company has taken since going public last month. That was just one of a flurry of shots the president took at his opponent’s expense, as NBC News reported:

Not all of Trump’s troubles were on the table, as NBC News’ report noted. Nary a word was mentioned about Trump’s criminal trial in New York, where jury selection is underway. That news story would seem ripe for attacks emphasizing the sharp distinctions between the two candidates. But any potential upsides that might come from Biden’s putting Trump’s alleged criminality front and center could threaten to undermine not just the campaign, but also prosecutors’ case against the former president.

On one level, it’s not surprising that Biden would shy away from bringing up Trump’s legal woes. When Trump was first charged in New York last year, Biden refused to comment on the matter. That soon expanded into the president’s privately issuing an edict of silence from his campaign and the Democratic National Committee once federal charges were levied against Trump in the classified documents case.

The Biden campaign still seems to be gently dancing around that order. Its social media accounts have posted memes about Trump’s allegedly falling asleep in court on Monday and cheekily referring to Stormy Daniels, the adult actress who is a key figure in the case, in a news release about abortion rights. The actual substance of the charges against Trump has gone unmentioned. That approach is unlikely to change soon among Democrats, according to The New York Times.

There’s definitely an appetite among some, though, to see Biden hit Trump much harder. Brian Beutler, author of the Off Message newsletter, argued that a policy of silence from Biden leaves Trump free to falsely shape the narrative around the charges. “Without opining on Trump’s guilt, Biden can and should speak, and free surrogates to speak, on incontestable facts: Trump is on trial because of choices he made. Neither Biden nor anyone in his administration has anything to do with it. The conduct in question relates to the integrity of the 2016 election,” Beutler wrote.

It’s true that highlighting Trump’s Manhattan trial would fit with Biden’s overall attack on Trump as a threat to democracy. For all the talk of its being a “hush money” case, the charges against Trump allege that the alleged hush money was paid to Daniels to prevent the affair from affecting 2016 election. That cover-up was arguably the first in a series of events that we’ve seen from him attempting to cheat the political system to win, including the events leading up to his first impeachment. Two of the three other criminal indictments stem from his attempts to reverse the 2020 election’s results, underpinning Biden’s warnings against what a second Trump administration would mean for future elections.

The problem is that other former presidents have seen their comments about criminal trials have unintended effects. Biden saw that firsthand when he was vice president under Barack Obama. Speaking about military sexual assault in 2013, Obama said offenders should be “prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged.” Those comments sparked a maelstrom among judges and defense lawyers, who said his statement was a commander in chief’s exerting “unlawful command influence” on the military justice system.

Any comments from Biden wouldn’t have quite as direct an impact on a trial in the New York state courts. But he’d do well to avoid the position President Richard Nixon found himself speaking to the media in 1970 about Charles Manson. The cult leader, whose murder trial was ongoing in Los Angeles, “was guilty, directly or indirectly, of eight murders without reason,” Nixon said, disparaging the amount of “glamorous” coverage Manson was receiving. Nixon quickly issued a statement through his press secretary saying that “I do not know and did not intend to speculate” on Manson’s guilt, but his initial remarks led Manson’s lawyers to attempt (unsuccessfully) to have the judge declare a mistrial.

It’s doubtful Biden would leap from saying nothing to weighing in directly on Trump’s innocence or guilt. But Trump has falsely claimed for months that the charges he faces all stem from Biden’s orders, a serious case of projection given his own well-documented desire to place his thumb on the scale of justice from the White House. It’s clear that he would be eager to leap on the barest appearance of interference from Biden to have his lawyers try to delay the proceedings even further. And given the open legal questions in this case, the less that could prompt an appeals court to find issue with a guilty verdict, the better.

Instead, patience is the best bet for the Biden camp. The trial is already moving more swiftly than some observers predicted, with jury selection potentially wrapping up by the end of the week. Polling has found that while multiple indictments haven’t hurt Trump much in the polls, a conviction might prompt a real shift among independents and even some Republicans. Even if the federal cases against Trump remain off-limits, the gloves would come off politically should Trump shift from “the accused” to “convicted felon.” It wouldn’t hurt Biden’s team, though, to start drafting some hits on that front now — just in case.

This article was originally published on MSNBC.com