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If Trump skips the inauguration, it may be bad for America, but it would be a gift to Biden

Joe Biden and Donald Trump.Drew Angerer/Getty Images/Polaris/Bloomberg

Shortly after NBC News reported that President Trump is not expected to attend Joe Biden’s inauguration next month, much less invite Biden to the White House beforehand, some Republicans urged Trump to reconsider.

For example, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it would be “good for the country” to have Trump, the outgoing president, attend the inauguration, showing a peaceful transfer of power to Americans and the world. After all, Hillary Clinton attended Trump’s inauguration four years ago in the role of a former secretary of state and first lady, even though she was also just defeated by the guy assuming the presidency.


Graham might be right in that Trump’s appearance at a Biden inauguration might be good for the country, but it is almost certainly not ideal for Biden.

Trump, a loser, would still upstage Biden

Consider how the event could play out if Trump were in attendance. Due to the pandemic, the inauguration will already be a sparsely attended event. Hours of television footage probably won’t involve wide pans of an audience on the National Mall. Instead, there will be lingering camera shots of socially distant dignitaries.

Biden wouldn’t be the star even at his own inauguration, but inevitably the supporting actor to Trump’s leading role. Everyone would be keeping an eye on Trump. Would he sulk? Would he tweet during the event? Would he be gregarious and charming?

Instead, if reports are true, Trump will just leave out the back door. (Granted, maybe not so quietly.)

It removes the thorny question about how to handle Trump and COVID precautions

Technically, the inauguration ceremony is hosted by Congress and that is one reason why it is typically held on Capitol Hill. It is their event, and congressional leaders will be the ones figuring how many people will be allowed to witness the proceedings in person and, among other things, where they will get to sit and whether they will be required to wear a face mask.


Now enter Trump into the equation. There is the politics and messaging to the country about what Trump would do regarding rules around COVID. But then there are also legit public health concerns. Two White House events this fall seemed to have been superspreader events. This week, Trump is holding holiday events indoors that could also spread the virus.

Whether or not Trump ends up going to the inauguration, organizers need to figure out how to keep everyone there healthy.

Just imagine the potential of an iconic picture where Trump finally extends a congratulatory handshake to Biden knowing that Biden wouldn’t shake his hand because of COVID. This is a situation Biden would surely like to avoid.

If Trump attends his own rally instead, it just plays into Biden’s hands

There is also reporting in recent days that Trump not only won’t attend the inauguration, but he will also actually leave the White House and do something else: Hold a kickoff rally for a 2024 campaign.

If he does that, then he sets up a dynamic where every criticism Trump makes of Biden going forward, he isn’t doing it as a former president, but as Biden’s chief political opponent. That lessens the impact of the criticism since Trump is then a loser looking for a rematch.

Trump wouldn’t even need to both hold a rally and announce another bid for president. He could just suggest it in a tweet as he flies away on Marine One.


Biden would then be facing an opponent he already beat, have all the advantages of the presidency, and Trump will freeze the GOP field, potentially hampering other candidates who might be looking to make their own bid for the Republican nomination.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.