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August 8, 2023

The Biden Pardon That Can Spare America

Biden knows how tenuous his position is on account of his senectitude and unpopularity.

President Joe Biden has a chance to do the right thing for all Americans — a brave and unpopular thing that will spare the country excruciating pain next year.

He can pardon Donald Trump and announce he’s not seeking reelection.

Without having to worry about reelection, Biden can spare the Justice Department a humiliating and corrupt plea bargain, too, by simply pardoning his son Hunter.

As things now stand, with the election 15 months away, both parties have painted themselves into a corner.

Biden barely polls ahead of Trump, and every week brings unwelcome reminders of the incumbent’s age (80) and dubious fitness for office.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, just a year older than Biden, was recently struck dumb as he attempted to lead a Republican press conference.

And Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 90, is so greatly diminished she’s had to turn power of attorney over to her daughter — even as Feinstein, or at any rate her office, continues to exercise power to vote in what was once the greatest deliberative body in the world.

The gerontocracy is visibly failing.

Meanwhile Republicans are on course to nominate a man who turns 78 next year.

Trump is far more energetic than Biden was when he became president at that age in 2021.

But Trump’s energy, and campaign cash, is being consumed by the staggering array of criminal charges he faces.

These prosecutions only help Trump in the primary; his rivals are forced either to side with Biden’s Justice Department and Democratic prosecutors or else to defend the man they want to beat.

Biden’s a record-setter in unpopularity, with the lowest approval ratings at this point in his term of any president in the last 40 years.

You have to go back to Jimmy Carter to find worse.

Trump was supremely polarizing even before the onslaught of prosecutions.

He drives Republican turnout — but many in the GOP fear he drives Democratic turnout even more.

The 2024 contest threatens to leave millions of voters feeling jaded, with even die-hard partisans wondering if their party nominated the only man who could lose to the other guy.

And the spectacle of a major-party nominee campaigning while on trial, or indeed in prison, will not do wonders for America’s image around the world.

At home, it will embitter our politics for a generation; the Watergate ordeal will seem like the era of good feelings by comparison.

The legal system itself will be on trial at the ballot box, and if a jury in Washington, D.C., convicts Trump, voters nationwide might yet acquit him.

A federal conviction is no bar to running for, or winning, the highest office.

On the other hand, if Biden prevails, what can America expect from an octogenarian’s second term?

Democrats might soon find their victory a Pyrrhic one, as an already weak president becomes a lame duck.

And if Democrats think they would win political advantage by turning the GOP into a revenge-for-Trump party, perhaps with Trump himself as an imprisoned martyr, they should consider which cause would inspire more devotion: that of a winner too decrepit to lead or that of a populist hero whose persecution mirrors the way his followers feel about their own fate in a Democrat-run America?

Biden has the power to avert this; all it will cost is his shot at a miserable second term.

If Biden pardons Trump, the Republican contest will have to be fought on different, better terms — not whether or not the charges against Trump are valid.

Trump might still win such a contest, politically embarrassing though it would be to accept clemency from Biden.

But the battle will be conducted like a traditional primary, not a referendum on the Democrats’ desire to “lock him up.”

Biden’s own party would revile the president for granting a pardon, but he could do them an equal favor by accepting their outrage in good grace and opting not to seek renomination next year.

The Democrats, too, would then have a more competitive primary, with the likelihood of younger leadership getting its turn.

An open Democratic primary would, of course, change electability calculations in the GOP as well — again not necessarily to Trump’s disadvantage, but both parties would have more cause to think about the future.

Biden knows how tenuous his position is on account of his senectitude and unpopularity.

He could bow out with a grand gesture, one offensive to the fanatics in his party yet actually healthy for the party — and for the other party, too.

He would make history.

But to do it, he has to be selfless and bold.

Consider it, Mr. President: All you have to lose are the burdens better borne by a younger leader.

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