When President Joe Biden was asked last Friday about the 37-count federal indictment of his predecessor, he gave a response that was both ethical and politically smart.
"I have no comment," Biden said as he toured a facility at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
He responded similarly to whether he had spoken to his attorney general.
“I’ve not spoken to him at all, and I’m not going to speak with him. And I have no comment on that.”
Biden's comments were perfectly appropriate amid the unprecedented indictment of a former president for mishandling national security secrets and obstructing justice, and his entire White House communications team adopted the same script.
But the president has also explicitly muzzled the Democratic Party on the matter, according to Politico—a strategic misstep that will leave a vacuum to be filled by the Republican Party and its MAGA misfits.
Donald Trump, GOP presidential candidates and House Republicans are already mercilessly pounding the indictment as a "weaponization" of the Department of Justice and FBI.
During a Tuesday evening event following his arraignment, Trump framed the criminal charges as a "political prosecution."
“Today, we witnessed the most evil and heinous abuse of power in the history of our country," Trump told attendees of the fundraiser at Bedminster, New Jersey. “A corrupt sitting president had his top political opponent arrested on fake and fabricated charges of which he and numerous other presidents would be guilty — right in the middle of a presidential election in which he is losing very badly.”
Republicans are also routinely comparing the national security nightmare Trump has visited upon the country with Hillary Clinton's emails and the classified documents Biden's lawyers discovered from his tenure as vice president and immediately returned to the National Archives. The Sunday talk shows were booked solid with Trump defenders hammering Hillary Clinton into their narrative, once again obscuring Trump’s treachery at her expense.
Republicans' disinformation onslaught must not be met with silence by Democrats on the Hill or elsewhere, for that matter.
Both Clinton and Biden cooperated with federal investigators and, to be blunt, neither of them allegedly lied to federal authorities, hid documents, or instructed their lawyers to deceive investigators.
But Democrats leave Republicans and the both-sides prone media to their own devices at their own peril. In fact, The New York Times’ lead story advertised Trump’s arraignment as “momentous,” complete with a picture of him descending the steps of his plane flanked by an American flag.
Even former New Jersey Gov. and 2024 candidate Chris Christie, who's blasting Trump's "indefensible" behavior, is working jabs at Clinton and Biden into the mix. During his CNN town hall Monday, Christie said the DOJ was "at fault for not charging Hillary Clinton."
Another GOP hopeful with little chance of winning, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, explained the dangers of leaving the Republican propaganda unchallenged.
"The perception is that she was treated differently,” Hutchinson told The New York Times. “Perception can become a reality very quickly.”
From a messaging standpoint, there's plenty to work with from the indictment, including photographic evidence, for God's sake. Every Democrat should laminate shots of Trump's bathroom reading material, carry it in their wallet, and offer it to reporters when they compare Trump's alleged criming to the cases of Clinton and Biden.
"Have you ever seen any pictures like that in Clinton's case?" Democrats could offer reporters.
But beyond the bogus comparisons, Democrats must explain the national security bind Trump has put the country in.
As Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia tweeted Wednesday morning, "The indictment against former President Trump is alarming — and every Member of Congress should condemn behavior that undermines our country’s safety and endangers our servicemembers."
The tweet from Spanberger, a former CIA officer who now represents a suburban swing district, included a video of her on CNN underscoring the gravity of the situation and Republicans' dangerous response to it.
"The fact that any member of Congress would be saying anything other than, 'We need to have the case go through the court system, we need to understand fully what happened,'" she explained, "the fact that they would defend this treatment of classified documents is deeply detrimental to our national security."
Spanberger also noted that some of the documents included the label "Five Eyes," meaning they involve information only sharable within the intelligence alliance between the U.S., Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand.
"The implication for our national security are not just to our own country but impacts the relationships and the information sharing that we may have with some our closest, closest allies," Spanberger said.
Spanberger's approach is pitch perfect, making Americans smarter on the issue and reinforcing the dereliction of duty demonstrated by both Trump and his Republican allies.
Trump's flagrant abuse of national security secrets is inherently disqualifying, and any Republican unwilling to say that or who, worse yet, defends him, deserves to be defeated in 2024.
But Democrats must make that case to the American public even as Biden keeps his distance from the case.
Donald Trump is facing even more legal jeopardy and the sharks in the Republican Party seem to sense there is some blood in the water. Chris Christie has made his campaign all about going directly at Trump, and Ron DeSantis seems to be closer and closer to becoming completely isolated from the field.