WASHINGTON — When Donald Trump left the White House, Democrats didn’t want to hear another word from him. President Biden dismissed him as “the former guy.” A partywide consensus held that he was best left ignored.
Three years later, Biden’s reelection campaign and Democratic officials across the party’s spectrum have landed on a new solution to his political slump:
Criticizing the news media for giving Trump a platform is out. Quietly pining for major networks to again broadcast live coverage of Trump campaign rallies is in.
Behind the improbable longing for the former president to gobble up political oxygen again is Democrats’ years-long dependence on the Trump outrage machine. Since his ascent, Trump has been a one-man Democratic turnout operation, uniting an otherwise fractured opposition and fueling victories in three straight election cycles.
Now, Democrats worry that the fever of Trump fatigue has passed, and that some voters are softening toward a man they once loathed. Many others may simply be paying little attention, as Trump’s share of the daily national conversation has diminished, despite the occasional interruption of campaign-trail pronouncements like his recent vow to “root out” political opponents like “vermin.”
Trump has nevertheless skipped the three Republican presidential debates and stayed away from the major social media platforms. He is expected to spend large parts of next year in criminal trials that, except for one in Georgia, will not be televised.
Cynthia Wallace, a cofounder of the New Rural Project, a progressive group in North Carolina, said she didn’t hear much about Trump these days from the rural Black and Hispanic voters her organization focuses on.
“I think it’s like a relationship,” she said. “There were a lot of bad things that happened, but the longer distance you get away from the bad things, you’re like, maybe the bad things weren’t that bad.”
Biden’s campaign, which has been slow to ramp up its operations, is betting that once voters view the election as a choice between Biden and Trump, who remains highly polarizing, they will set aside their reservations about the president and fall in line behind him.
But while Trump is likely to rise in the public consciousness as November 2024 approaches, it is far from certain he will sabotage himself politically. And it remains unclear whether his criminal trials will make him more toxic among moderate and swing voters or whether weeks of courtroom appearances will keep his presence more muted than normal.
Other Biden efforts are meeting limited success. His campaign has little to show for a $40 million advertising push promoting his economic record. And approval of the president, according to polls released this month by The New York Times and Siena College, has fallen sharply among Black and Hispanic voters — demographics that strategists say are more likely to disregard Trump when he is not front and center in the news.
“Not having the day-to-day chaos of Donald Trump in people’s faces certainly has an impact on how people are measuring the urgency of the danger of another Trump administration,” said Adrianne Shropshire, the executive director of BlackPAC, an African American political organizing group. “It is important to remind people of what a total and absolute disaster Trump was.”
One big challenge for the Biden campaign, however, is that many Americans who tuned out the former president when he left office show little interest in hearing more about him.
Several voters who backed Biden in 2020 and are now leaning toward Trump said they had not followed the ins and outs of the former president’s post-White House activities and tended to discount and brush aside his past scandals.
“I know a lot of people get mad about what he said years ago about ‘grab them by whatever,’” said Treena Fortney, 51, a wholesaler from Covington, Ga., who voted for Biden in 2020 but now regrets it and is supporting Trump. “That was kind of aggravating. But, you know, that was years ago. And that’s how guys talk in a locker room. I don’t think he really would do that. I think he was just saying that.”
Arthur Taylor, a business owner from Mesa, Ariz., described himself as a Democrat who voted for Hillary Rodham Clinton and Biden and now says he will back Trump in 2024. He said the business climate was better when Trump was president and that the 91 criminal charges against him might not be so bad.
“There’s so many things that President Trump does that’s just not ethical,” Taylor said. But he added that with the former president, “there’s a level of honesty and almost transparency, even in a way that we might cringe at it.”
Those sorts of sentiments have left the Biden campaign this past week to engage in its own media criticism, publicly urging news shows on network television to follow New York Times articles about Trump’s plans for immigration and deportation policies if he wins the election.
“The more the American people are confronted with who Donald Trump is — a dangerous, extreme and erratic man who only cares about using the power of the government to help himself and his friends — the more they reject him,” said Ammar Moussa, a Biden campaign spokesperson. “We will continue to highlight for voters what’s at stake if Trump and his cronies are allowed anywhere near the Oval Office.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.