It’s as if the calendar suddenly raced forward a year in the blink of an eye.
President Joe Biden and ex-President Donald Trump are stuck in their possible rematch for the White House a year early, with the incumbent set to rush to Michigan Tuesday to preemptively steal his possible rival’s headlines on the picket lines of an autoworkers dispute. Trump, meanwhile, is flinging violent and extreme rhetoric and trying to orchestrate a government shutdown to damage his successor.
Never mind that the first votes in the Republican nominating contest are four months away. Or that Trump’s rivals will gather in California Wednesday for a debate set to be overshadowed by the runaway front-runner’s speech in Detroit – part of his duel with Biden for vital blue-collar votes in a swing state that they both won on the way to the White House.
The 2024 match-up that polls show most Americans don’t want is bursting into life ahead of an unprecedented campaign in which Trump is staring down four criminal trials and is generating an extreme preview of a second term of “retribution” that could threaten political institutions and democracy even more than his turbulent first administration. The sitting president seeking reelection is facing concerns that, at 82 by the next inauguration, he might not be able to fulfill his duties for an entire second term with Democrats increasingly unnerved by polls showing the hypothetical rematch is a dead heat.
Trump has noticeably upped the pace and the viciousness of his campaign in recent days, as he sets his sights on Biden while also taking steps in early voting states to try to snuff out the hopes of his distant GOP rivals that they could deprive him of his third straight GOP nomination.
The ex-president clearly views the imbroglio in Washington – in which hardline House Republicans are making a mockery of Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s leadership and could shut down the government by a Saturday deadline – as an opportunity to wound Biden. He is showing little concern about the damage a shutdown could do to innocent federal workers or the economy, as he typically prioritizes his political goals.
“UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN!” Trump wrote on his Truth Social network late on Sunday evening, injecting new toxins into an already bitter mood among GOP lawmakers.
At first sight, Trump’s support for a shutdown makes little political sense since Republican leaders warn that such political cataclysms almost always hurt their party when it initiates such crises with a Democrat in the White House.
Public anger at the GOP that lasts until next year could also sweep away the party’s tiny House majority, potentially limiting Trump’s power if he were to win back the White House. Widespread disgust at Republican tactics might even harm Trump’s election hopes, assuming he’s the party nominee, among more moderate voters in swing states who were instrumental in making him the first one-term president in nearly 30 years.
But the former president is dismissing the conventional wisdom that a shutdown could backfire – as it did against him when he was in office – and reasoning that Biden will be the most hurt by the mess. In his Sunday evening message, he lashed out at Republicans who fear they will be blamed for any shutdown. “Wrong!!!” Trump wrote. “Whoever is President will be blamed.”
Trump’s perception of his political interest has often superseded conventional interpretations of his party’s wider good. This was evident in last year’s midterms when his stable of candidates flamed out in battleground states and helped cost Republicans the Senate.