The Great Immunity Election Hustle

Photograph Source: Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos – Public Domain

For a long time, those seeking the presidency did so to promote ideas—be they found among Federalists, Democrats, Whigs, Prohibitionists, Free Soilers, Abolitionists, Know-Nothings, Progressives, Greenbackers, or Bimetallists, to name but a few lodestones. Increasingly the presidency has become a safe house, and those running for high office do so only to wear the invisibility cloak of criminal immunity.

Since he is president and running as the incumbent, let’s start with Joe Biden who has come to the decision that at age 81 (his age on election day in 2024), he represents the best hope that the Democratic party can offer to the American electorate.

Mind you, the only other paying job open to him in the U.S. at that age is that of a greeter at The Home Depot (and there they would keep him away from lawnmowers).

Clearly, in the last four years members of his family and staff must have suggested that he consider “stepping aside,” and at each such juncture, he has said no.

Nevertheless, despite losing the thread of sentences and cascading downstairs, Biden persists with his electoral delusions, so it has to be asked: why?


The conventional political answer is that only Joe Biden can defeat Donald Trump in the general election. Hence the sitting president is all that stands between American democracy and another four years of Trump (R – Psychosis Party) in the White House.

Obviously, such an answer defies political gravity, because Biden’s approval ratings are in the 30s, and because those expressing disapproval of his candidacy do so on the basis of his age and general befuddlement.

Nor has Biden expressed any confidence in passing the mantle to his vice president, Kamala Harris. Again, the worn soundbite is that she would struggle to beat Trump in the general election, although whenever that theory is unscrambled in the decoder machine it comes out, in Bidenspeak, as “I can’t stand that woman.”


Which brings us to the default conclusion that Joe Biden’s running mate in the 2024 election is his son Hunter, coming soon to a tabloid near you, smoking his crack pipe, brandishing his heater, canoodling with one of his stripper girlfriends, or counting his board fees in small, unmarked Ukrainian hryvnia.

To me, the reason Joe Biden is persisting in his re-election bid is because he fears the damage from a Hunter criminal trial and possible conviction more than he fears a Trump White House Resurgimiento.

Try as he probably has, Joe Biden has never managed to snuff out Hunter’s endless last temptations. Joe was an enabler (taking all those conference calls with shady middlemen) when Hunter used his last name to cash exorbitant board fees in Ukraine, just as Joe tolerated Hunter’s influence peddling in China and looked away when the first son bounced a few more alimony checks and took out payday loans to drive around in hundred-thousand-dollar sports cars.

Now that Hunter’s plea deals have cratered, in all likelihood, he will stand trial on various federal charges (guns, drugs, and taxes, based on his self-incriminating laptop), and in Joe’s enabling mind, all that comes between his vulnerable son and the Big House is a fatherly presidential pardon.

Perhaps in trying to save his son, Joe Biden would also be saving himself, if it turns out that VP Joe went home from Ukraine or China with a few goodie bags?

Something other than “the national good” has to explain why an 81-year-old man would cling to the illusion that, come election day, he represents the better angels of our nature.


For Donald Trump, winning in the Immunity College is the only reason his candidacy ever got started. Success at the polls, for Trump, simply means, “Get out of jail free.”

He’s not running to articulate some vision of health care reform, infrastructure rehabilitation, or foreign policy. He’s running because otherwise he’s going up the river. He might dodge a few raps, but not all 91.

To keep plated gold from becoming the new orange, Trump will need either to have a pliant Attorney General dismiss the remaining charges or—perhaps at the risk of autoerotic legal asphyxiation—he will need to pardon himself.

For Trump, being back in the White House doesn’t confer immunity with the state (the Georgia RICO cases) and local (the New York civil suits) charges, which lie outside the realms of presidential pardons.

This explains why in Georgia Trump has taken up the cudgel one step beyond witness tampering, and moved onto prosecutor tampering, in which Trump operatives are mud-slinging that Atlanta District Attorney Fani Willis is having or had an affair with a lead prosecutor in the Trump RICO case—an outside lawyer who the office of the Fulton County DA hired to help prosecute the Mar-a-Lago elector gang.

Under these allegations, when the lover took Willis on vacations and reached for some meal checks, he was using DA money that she had paid him at work—for her own benefit.

Personally, I don’t see how an affair among prosecutors in Georgia would allow Trump to walk on the RICO charges of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, but what matters most to Trump is winning the primetime news cycle with outlandish allegations, and what the British call a “leg-over situation” involving his prosecutors would give him a spin win, at the very least.


The problem with converting the presidency into a bail bondsman (“Pay when you are free…. Dont be inside any longer than necessary…”) is that any self-pardons issued by Trump would inevitably end up before the Supreme Court, and embroil two branches of government in breaking Trump out of jail.

Were Trump to win the presidency, and on January 20, 2025, instruct his attorney general to drop all pending charges against him, he might well beat those raps.

But if by then in one of the federal cases he has been convicted, and if the case is on appeal, it will be harder to keep a self-pardon away from a Supreme Court review, by which point the United States might well find itself under the governance of a president serving time in the joint.

In 2018, non-constitutional scholar Donald Trump claimed in the Twittersphere, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself…”, which goes along with his reasoning that a serving president has immunity against all prosecution, except that of impeachment.

Appellate courts reviewing this immunity claim in the past have scoffed at this logic, but still candidates, especially in 2024, see the White House as a potential hideout.

In denying a president’s right to self-pardons, many scholars cite the judicial precedent that no one can judge themselves and that the constitutional language of the pardon clause (“…he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”) makes it clear that it is something given to another person (hence the verb “grant”).

In 1974, the corrupt Nixon administration came to the conclusion that self-pardons were illegal (even by its low standards). But I could see the Trump personal injury law firm of Roberts, Thomas & Alito—If youve been injured, we can help…”— coming to the L’État, c’est moi conclusion that its only paying client can place a crown of immunity on his own head. After all, Napoleon did it.

Matthew Stevenson is the author of many books, including Reading the Rails, Appalachia Spring, andThe Revolution as a Dinner Party, about China throughout its turbulent twentieth century. His most recent books are Biking with Bismarck and Our Man in Iran. Out now: Donald Trump’s Circus Maximus and Joe Biden’s Excellent Adventure, about the 2016 and 2020 elections.