Juan Williams: Trump's Ukraine scandal rooted in fear of Biden

Why is President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE so nervous about the 2020 race?

He has a record amount of campaign cash. Russian bots are still working for him. And he still has the backing of more than 80 percent of his party.

So, how do I know he’s so nervous?

As Trump loves to say: Read the transcript.


At the heart of the phone call that has led to impeachment hearings is Trump going out on a shaky limb to ask Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor.”

That “favor” included a request for Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris to host virtual Hollywood campaign event co-chaired by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling Trump plans to accept Republican nomination from White House lawn US seizes four vessels loaded with Iranian fuel MORE and Biden’s son, Hunter.

The only reason for Trump to risk asking a foreign leader for help getting political dirt on an opponent is that he feared that rival’s power. And that November 2020 powerhouse in Trump’s mind is Biden.

Recall that in June, Trump’s anxiety was on display when he insisted his campaign fire some its pollsters after internal polls showed him losing in Michigan and Wisconsin to Biden.

Trump’s shaky nerves went public again in July when a Fox News poll showed him losing to Biden — by a lot. Trump went ballistic and attacked Fox.

The president still has every reason to be nervous about a possible match-up with Biden because polls continue to show the Democrat beating him badly.

If Biden, a well-liked moderate, is the nominee the election becomes a referendum on Trump. With an approval rating hovering in the mid-to-low 40s, that is not good news for the president.

Take a look at the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. It has Biden leading Trump by 17 percentage points.

And a New York Times/Siena College poll has Biden beating Trump in four of the six swing states that are key to control of the Electoral College — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona. That poll had Biden and Trump tied in Michigan.

Why is Biden a special foe for Trump?

He has the backing of black voters and is well-liked by white, working-class voters.

Other Democrats do well against Trump but none of them shows Biden’s power at the polls against Trump. If Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenChris Wallace: Trump struggling with attacks on 'shape-shifter' Harris Markey riffs on JFK quote in new ad touting progressive bona fides Howard Kurtz: Kamala Harris 'getting walk on water coverage' by media after VP pick MORE (D-Mass.) or Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersChris Wallace: Trump struggling with attacks on 'shape-shifter' Harris Kamala Harris: The outreach Latinos need Biden and Harris seen as more moderate than Trump and Pence: poll MORE (I-Vt.) is the nominee, Trump has a better chance to shift the focus to attacks on their agendas — for example, higher taxes on the rich.

Still, Warren has a 7.3 percentage point lead over Trump nationally in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. Sanders has a 7.9 percentage point lead over the incumbent.

But in the New York Times survey of swing states, no Democrat can match Biden’s performance against Trump.

Sanders is ahead of Trump in three of the six states but loses in three others. Warren wins in only one, loses to Trump in three and is even in two.

And among independent voters, who gave Trump a 46-42 percent win in 2016, Biden is now ahead of Trump by 17 percentage points, according to the Post/ABC poll.

These polls explain why Trump decided it was worth the risk to resort to treachery to sink Biden.

If Zelensky acceded to Trump’s requests — we have since learnt there were plans for the Ukrainian president to give a CNN interview to this effect — then Trump would have a 2020 version of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal Gloria Steinem: Selection of Kamala Harris recognizes that 'black women ... are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party' MORE’s emails and he could revise chants of “Lock Her Up,” into chants of “Lock Him Up.”

By using Zelensky as a pawn, Trump could force baseless talk of corruption by Biden onto the front pages of American newspapers, television and Facebook. If Zelensky announced an investigation the news outlets would report it as news.


Bill Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, has testified that he was told that Trump’s political strategy was to put Zelensky “in a public box” by forcing him to announce a probe into Biden that would compel Ukrainian prosecutors to take action.

Note there is no evidence that Biden and his son did anything wrong in Ukraine.

So, with that July phone call, Trump made the risky gamble that he could make Zelensky do his dirty work by dangling U.S. military assistance as the carrot to get Zelensky to smear Biden.

In fact, Trump placed two other bets that day.

The first side bet was that blind loyalty would prevent White House officials, National Security aides, and State Department diplomats — especially people on the call or who later learned of the call — from blowing the whistle on him.

The second side bet was that his aides could hide a transcript of the phone call in a classified server at the White House to prevent anyone else from reading it and seeing his crooked political play.

Trump continued down that high-risk road even after it went public that he was withholding the money approved by Congress to help the Ukraine fight off Russian military incursions.

But Trump’s nervousness about Biden convinced him he had to damage Biden at any cost.

If Trump knew in July that by November his party would lose big in Virginia legislative elections, lose big in Pennsylvania suburban elections, and see 20 House Republicans announce they are leaving before the 2020 election, he might have skipped the phone call.

He would have fired up Air Force One for a trip to Kiev and personally put Zelensky in front of that CNN camera.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.