Why Trump’s Legal Cases Are Irresistible for Everyone but the Biden Campaign

The former president is in plenty of legal jeopardy. But all the court action could end up being a political distraction.
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at the Hyatt Hotel on...
Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at the Hyatt Hotel on December 13, 2023 in Coralville, Iowa.by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

Donald Trump is many things, and almost all of them are bad. But he is an unparalleled content provider. His New Year’s gift to the news media is the unprecedented spectacle of a former president being pursued by four prosecutors in five cases, with Trump facing 91 federal and state criminal charges, ranging from obstruction to falsifying business records, as well as civil fraud allegations and the Colorado Supreme Court ruling disqualifying him from the state’s 2024 primary ballot (maybe). That list doesn’t even include the ancillary legal action, such as the ongoing meltdown of Rudy Giuliani. It all makes for irresistible reporting, reading, and viewing.

Curiously, though, one audience finds the “Perils of Trump” show entirely resistible—and it’s the audience that arguably stands to gain the most from any Trump conviction. President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign is keeping an eye on the court proceedings, of course, but hopes the legal drama doesn’t obscure the more important narrative. “This isn’t an episode of Law & Order,” one Biden insider says. “Trump needs to be treated as a candidate, not a defendant.”

It’s a fair point and a logical perspective from an opposing campaign. The Trump prosecutions are beyond the control of Biden’s team, no matter how many conspiracy theories Kentucky Republican congressman James Comer spouts. The outcomes of the cases in New York, Florida, Georgia, and Washington, DC, are hardly predictable. Trump has pleaded not guilty to everything on the long list of charges:

New York

  • Corporate financial fraud, a civil case prosecuted by state attorney general Letitia James
  • Falsifying business records over a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels, prosecuted by Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg


  • Wrongful possession of classified government documents, prosecuted by DOJ special counsel Jack Smith


  • Election interference, including pressuring a state official to “find” 11,780 votes, prosecuted by Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis

Washington, DC

  • Election interference, including inciting the violent January 6 attack on the Capitol, prosecuted by Smith

Also unknowable is the court timetable. Trump continues to do everything he possibly can, including filing multiple appeals, to stall any trials until after next November. But last week Smith threw an unexpected wrinkle into the situation, petitioning the Supreme Court to bypass a lower court and rule on Trump’s claim of executive immunity. “Not only don’t we know what any verdicts might turn out to be, but the timing of when they arrive would be crucial,” a top national Democratic strategist says. “Imagine if Trump were to be acquitted in October. What would that do to his momentum?”

The more optimistic view for Democrats is that one or more convictions would sway a meaningful number of swing voters—if not in Biden’s favor, then at least away from Trump. There is some support for this line of thinking: A late-October New York Times poll of registered voters in six battleground states showed a potentially massive nine-point drop in support if Trump is found guilty. Other polls asked similar questions and found varying levels of damage to Trump.

Trump’s legal vulnerabilities were never central to Biden’s strategy. But they have been shrinking in significance as the dispositions remain elusive and the election calendar gets shorter. Instead, the campaign is focused on sharpening its attacks on Trump, who it has always presumed will be the Republican nominee. Making those arguments stick will require creating emotionally and materially relevant messaging for voters. “Coverage of any trials does not help make the case that he’s a terrible human being—that’s already baked in for a lot of voters,” says Cornell Belcher, a Democratic strategist who worked on both of Barack Obama’s winning presidential runs. “We know he’s unethical—but is he an existential threat to you?”

Project 2025, the blueprint for Trump’s presidency developed by his right-wing allies, contains plenty of fodder for Democrats. There’s also the bile coming out of Trump’s mouth, including calling his political opponents “vermin,” praising authoritarian leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, and recently vowing to be a dictator on “day one.” Biden and his allies are likely to spend nearly a billion dollars ahead of the 2024 general election, reminding people that Trump and the Republicans want to further restrict access to abortion, deport tens of thousands of migrants, and dismantle major branches of government. While a spring, summer, and fall devoted to prosecutors airing evidence against Trump could provide marginal help to Biden’s argument that the former president is a threat to democracy, a downside looms. Nonstop coverage of Trump’s trials could suck the air out of the political room—suffocating any positive story Biden will try to tell, and distracting the media and voters from the dangers of a possible Trump second term.