You don’t have to be a hardcore cynic to suspect that one of the goals of Tuesday’s indictment of Donald Trump — the third this year — is to keep the GOP primary electorate rallying around the former president. It’s a transparent political ploy openly discussed by operatives on both sides of the aisle. So if it works, Republican primary voters will have nobody to blame but themselves.

But if Trump does win the nomination and then goes on to beat President Biden, whom will Democrats blame then?

When Trump was indicted the first time — and on a legal theory just as novel as the one prosecutor Jack Smith used Tuesday — veteran Democratic operative Bob Shrum said that any attempts by Democrats to boost Trump’s candidacy would be a mistake.

“I don’t want to run against Trump because he might win,” said Shrum, now the director of the Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California-Dornsife. “The problem with this ‘help-Trump-win’ strategy — and smart people know this — is that Hillary Clinton was rooting for Trump in 2016, too.”

As time passes and new poll numbers roll in, Shrum looks more prescient every day.

Many Democrats see a 2024 election with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket as a dream come true. Republicans are 0-3 since the 2018 midterms and, they believe, getting The Donald back on the ballot will keep that streak alive.

But there’s another 2024 scenario, one bolstered by both biology and Hunter Biden’s bank records: An elderly, unsteady incumbent, suffering low approval ratings and dogged by questions about phone calls with his son’s shady foreign business partners, hiding out in a Delaware basement.

That’s the Joe Biden Democrats are betting on between now and November 2024. That’s 15 months of staircases, hot microphones, and unscripted encounters with the press for an 80-year-old candidate about whom only one thing is certain: 12 months from now, he will be 365 days older than he is today.

Democrats gloated (and with good reason) when the latest New York Times/Siena College polldropped showing Trump with a massive 37-point lead over Florida governor Ron DeSantis, and the rest of the field at 3 percent or less.

But a day later, that same poll also showed Biden and Trump tied at 43 percent in a head-to-head race, and Biden’s approval rating at a dismal 39 percent. It is just one of many recent polls indicating that, as of today, Trump vs. Biden is a coin toss.

How can it be this close? Check out their negatives. While 55 percent of voters disapprove of Trump, 54 percent feel the same about Biden.

These aren’t outliers. The CBS poll released last weekend had Biden’s approval at 40 percent. On the economy, it’s 34 percent.

Once again, this is today. Right now. It’s before Biden suffers another embarrassing fall while boarding Air Force One. Or appears to drift off during a White House sit down with a head of state. Or tries to explain the next round of revelations about his direct interactions with foreign businessmen who gave money to his son.

Do Democrats honestly believe the Joe Biden of August 2024 will be in better shape than the Biden of today?

Biden’s mantra is, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.” And here again, Democrats’ math is shaky. Americans know the alternative. Donald Trump is the most famous and the most hated man in U.S. politics. There’s nothing you can tell Americans about him they don’t already know. Liar? Con man? Conspiracy-spewing, self-absorbed jerk?

Americans know all that … and he’s still tied with Joe Biden.

Predicting the future of politics, particularly in this hyper-partisan, social-media-saturated moment is a fool’s errand. But it’s hard to look at the likelihood of a Biden vs. Trump race and not recall 2016. That was the year a candidate with no chance of winning ran against a candidate who was guaranteed to lose.

The result was Donald Trump.

With a nominee approaching his 82nd birthday, who is frequently incoherent in public, and who has a year of influence-peddling allegations ahead of him, how confident are Democrats that 2024 will be different?

Polls show only a third of Democrats even want Biden to run again. Perhaps all this is a sign the president should pull an “LBJ” and announce he won’t seek another term. In 1968, that allowed Lyndon Johnson’s vice president to become the party’s nominee.

Hey, Democrats — have you met Kamala Harris?

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