For months, President Biden has appeared to delight in needling Donald J. Trump and his Republican allies, trying at every turn to make MAGA and ultra-MAGA a shorthand for the entire party.
This week, Mr. Biden cheekily highlighted a video in which Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia derisively ticks through his first-term accomplishments and likens him — not positively — to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “I approve this message,” the president commented on the video, which was viewed more than 43 million times in 24 hours.
Mr. Biden recently did a victory lap when Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama promoted local spending in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Mr. Tuberville had voted against.
And his campaign took a shot at Mr. Trump for not visiting Wisconsin during his current presidential bid, accusing him of a “failure to deliver on his promised American manufacturing boom.”
But when it comes to the topic dominating the presidential race this week, Mr. Biden and his top allies are treating Mr. Trump’s legal troubles like Voldemort — avoiding, at all costs, any mention of the indictments that must not be named.
This moment comes after weeks of polling, both public and private, that suggests Mr. Trump, who is comfortably the front-runner in the Republican primary race, would be a weaker general-election opponent next year than Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida or other G.O.P. candidates.
The White House and the Biden campaign have not sent explicit instructions to surrogates and supporters telling them to steer clear of Mr. Trump’s legal issues, but plenty of those on Team Biden have gotten the message loud and clear: Don’t talk about the Trump indictments.
“The American people want the judicial process to play out without interference from politicians,” said Representative Ro Khanna of California, a member of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board. “President Biden has his pulse on the sentiments of the American public by talking about what matters to them.”
Mr. Biden has said he won’t comment on investigations into and charges against Mr. Trump — a reflection of his clear desire not to be seen as intruding on Justice Department independence, as well as the political imperative of deflecting Republicans’ relentless, evidence-free accusations that he is the hidden hand behind the prosecutions.
The Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee have repeatedly declined to comment or answer questions about Mr. Trump’s indictments. The White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, has dodged numerous questions about Mr. Trump’s legal travails in recent weeks.
“I’m just not going to respond to any hypotheticals that’s currently, you know, out there in the world,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said Tuesday after Mr. Trump revealed he had received a so-called target letter from federal investigators, a sign that he could soon be indicted in the investigation into the events that culminated in the Capitol riot. “Just not going to comment from here.”
The Biden world’s approach to Mr. Trump’s indictments echoes how Democrats handled Mr. Trump, then the president, during the 2018 midterm elections.
Scores of resistance-fueled Democrats ran for and won House seats by focusing on health care policy without placing Mr. Trump at the center of their campaigns. They didn’t have to talk Trump then, the thinking went, because voters had already made up their minds about him.
“He is omnipresent and the voters who are motivated to vote against him and his party already know what they need to know,” said Meredith Kelly, a strategist who worked for the House Democrats’ campaign arm in 2018. “This allowed congressional candidates to talk about real kitchen-table issues impacting families and continues to be the case this cycle as he looms large over the battlefield in 2024.”
There’s also little question that polling shows Mr. Biden is stronger against Mr. Trump than Mr. DeSantis or others, giving the president little incentive to do anything to hurt Mr. Trump’s standing among Republican primary voters.
A Michigan poll conducted last week by a Republican-leaning polling firm found Mr. Biden up by a percentage point against Mr. Trump but down by two to Mr. DeSantis. The same firm’s poll of Nevada showed Mr. Biden up by four against Mr. Trump and trailing Mr. DeSantis by two. And in Wisconsin, a poll last month from Marquette University Law School found Mr. Biden with a nine-point lead over Mr. Trump but a two-point lead over Mr. DeSantis.
According to the Marquette pollster, Charles Franklin, both Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis hold support from hard-core Republicans in a matchup against Mr. Biden, but among Republican-leaning independents, Mr. Trump’s support drops while Mr. DeSantis’s does not.
The public polling aligns with the White House’s own polling of battleground states.
One person who is more than happy to amplify discussions about the investigations and indictments is Mr. Trump himself. It was the former president, of course, who revealed that he had received the target letter.
“Crooked Joe Biden has weaponized the Justice Department to go after his top political opponent, President Trump, who is the overwhelming front-runner to take back the White House,” said Steven Cheung, Mr. Trump’s campaign spokesman. “Biden wants to meddle in the election because he knows he stands no chance against President Trump.”
The Biden campaign’s video of Ms. Greene served to tweak and elevate one of Mr. Trump’s staunchest far-right supporters and promote Mr. Biden’s own record without getting into the legal cases against Mr. Trump. Polling conducted for the White House last year found that Ms. Greene was known and disliked by a large portion of voters and that independent voters associated her with Mr. Trump’s MAGA movement.
Mr. Biden’s campaign referred to her on Wednesday as an “unintentional campaign” spokeswoman.
“Joe Biden had the largest public investment in social infrastructure and environmental programs that is actually finishing what F.D.R. started, that L.B.J. expanded on, and Joe Biden is attempting to complete,” Ms. Greene said at the Turning Point Action conference over the weekend, in the video clipped by the Biden campaign.
The result is a crisp 35-second video, distributed on Mr. Biden’s Twitter feed with the introduction, “I approve this message.”
The clip was similar to the moment last month when Mr. Biden highlighted unusual and unexpected support from another Trump-centric Republican, Senator Tuberville, who praised spending in Alabama from the infrastructure law, which Mr. Biden signed and the senator had voted against.
In that instance, Mr. Biden played up Mr. Tuberville’s support during a Chicago speech, theatrically drawing the sign of the cross on his chest as if the senator had undergone a political conversion.
The president has previously sought to draw attention to Ms. Greene, who is already a leading social media and fund-raising star in the Republican Party. During a speech this month in South Carolina, he said that he would soon make a visit to her northwest Georgia district to celebrate the beginning of construction of a solar power manufacturing plant there.
The crowd laughed. Mr. Biden has not yet scheduled a trip to the groundbreaking.
Reid J. Epstein covers campaigns and elections from Washington. Before joining The Times in 2019, he worked at The Wall Street Journal, Politico, Newsday and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. More about Reid J. Epstein
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