No More Mr. Nice Guy— Above the Fray is Out of the Fight.

This week, we learned that Donald Trump had tested positive for Covid before his first presidential debate with Joe Biden. He may well have been positive, and infectious, during his Rose Garden celebration with his final Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, as well as during his meeting with Gold Star military families.

Trump appears to have exposed dozens, if not hundreds, of people, including his 77-year-old opponent, to a potentially deadly illness. It was a remarkable demonstration of his selfish indifference to the health and welfare of everyone around him. And in the same way that he refused to act on his own infection — until it was almost too late — he also refused to act to stem a pandemic that, at the time of his positive test, had killed more than 200,000 Americans.

When asked about this news, on Wednesday, President Biden said, simply, that he did not “think about the former president.”

In keeping with the tone of his administration thus far, Biden wanted to show that he was more concerned with the work of governing than the antics of his predecessor. But I think this dismissal is a mistake.

No matter how well you govern, no matter how popular your policies, politics is not a game you can win from above the fray. And in the modern political environment, one must use every available opportunity to seize the attention of the media (and of voters) and force a conversation that happens on your terms, with your aims in mind.

The news of Trump’s decision to endanger everyone around him was an opportunity to do just that. It was a chance for Biden to emphasize the many and overlapping disasters he inherited from the former president and how both Trump and his party were poor stewards of the United States and the American people. A sharp remark would have put Trump’s failure back in the news and forced other Republicans to respond to it — on Biden’s terms.

Instead, by speaking as if he’s above the controversy, the president has, in effect, defused it.

Biden does not have to be like Trump — he does not have to try to dominate the public’s attention every minute of every day — but he should at least throw a jab when his opponents open themselves up to the hit. There is no reward for taking the high road in politics; there is only a lost opportunity to leave a mark.

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