While former US president Donald Trump was soaking up hours of American media attention on Tuesday, the current occupant of the Oval Office moved to damp down some potential friction with Windsor Castle.
As Trump was mid-air, flying back to his Mar-a-Lago estate following his historic criminal indictment and fingerprinting in New York, Joe Biden was on the phone with King Charles III moving to defuse continuing questions about why the US President is skipping the monarch’s coronation. Despite the fact that Biden is merely hewing to precedent, since no sitting American president has ever attended a British coronation, suggestions have simmered on both sides of the Atlantic that the White House decision is intended to snub the UK.
The two men cleared the air, safe in the knowledge that it was a good day to iron out some wrinkles given that the attention of the world’s media was focused elsewhere. (Biden will travel to both sides of the Irish border next week to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. First Lady Jill Biden will represent him at the coronation next month.)
Like Biden’s other activities on Tuesday – a meeting with his science advisors, and a phone call with Beijing-bound French President Emmanuel Macron – the call to the King was little noticed here.
When Trump grudgingly departed the White House in January 2021, he sought to position himself as the leader of the opposition in a country where that formal position does not exist. In that regard, he’s succeeded, with the latest polls showing that even in the face of criminal indictment his lead over his rivals in the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination is growing.
The White House is putting a brave face on the complexity Biden faces cutting through with the American public, while his arrested predecessor continues to rage about “the Biden regime’s weaponised law enforcement and corrupt justice system” attempting “to destroy our America First movement”.
In an interview with The New York Times, Barack Obama’s former White House communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, conceded that “2023 is going to be all about Trump”, but argued “on some level that’s fine. These stories will peak, and then they’ll go away”.
But will they?
The nascent presidential race would, under any circumstances, offer Trump a bullhorn throughout the primary process that is just beginning to gear up. But his ubiquitous presence on the landscape is sure to intensify, given that Tuesday’s court appearance may prove to be just the first of many.
Prosecutors in Georgia may be next out of the gate. They’re mulling whether to bring charges against Trump alleging election interference in the state following his January 2021 telephone call to officials urging them to “find” additional votes in his favour. Special prosecutors at the Department of Justice are leading two separate probes – one into Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents, the second investigating his culpability for the deadly riots on Capitol Hill two years ago. All of those investigations could put Trump back in multiple courts within the next weeks and months.
On Wednesday, Trump raged afresh against the Justice Department on his Truth Social platform, saying “REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS SHOULD DEFUND THE DOJ AND FBI UNTIL THEY COME TO THEIR SENSES”. On Tuesday night, he told supporters at Mar-a-Lago that America, under Biden, is “going to hell” and that “the only crime I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it”.
Having harnessed his political fortunes to that kind of furious messaging, Trump hopes to continue solidifying Republican support around him. At the White House, Biden is refusing to be drawn on his rival’s legal woes, with advisers already portraying the president as the “anti-chaos” force in US society.
In Tuesday’s White House press briefing, spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden had no time to consume the breathless, live coverage of his predecessor’s court appearance. “The president is going to focus on the American people, like he does every day,” she said, before conceding that “obviously he will watch when he has a chance to catch up on the news of the day”.
At dinnertime at least, the President of the United States is currently just one more viewer of his predecessor’s reality show.