Imagine just for a second if the two political parties in America faced off this fall on the issues. It would be so old school. It would be so cool.

One thing that has become clear in the last two weeks is that any hope for an “issue-based” contest are probably dashed by the Justice Department’s green-lighting a search and seizure raid on the home of a former U.S. president.

Even if his or her name weren’t Trump, it would still be a very big deal.

Two parallel truths today that may or may not be related are: 1. Democrats do not want to run on their record, and 2. Donald Trump — who had been slowly fading out of the day-to-day consciousness of most of us — has been yanked back onto the front pages at the very same time Republicans defenestrate Liz Cheney, his most vocal critic in the party, in a Wyoming primary.

It may well be a coincidence. But Democrats want this to be an emotional election, while Republicans stand more to gain from a rational one. The economy is weak, the Biden Administration has not been popular, and America’s prestige abroad seems diminished as the current president — who called Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman a “pariah” — fist-bumps the man he accused of murder.

Now, when Biden meets Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, the U.S. will be on our heels, defending House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent trip to Taiwan rather than exploiting reports of a weakening Chinese economy to lean forward and make progress on our trade position.

None of these factors add up well for the home team. Fortunately for Democrats, there are more tricks in store than an oddly timed trip to Taiwan. Better distractions, that is. There is the huge hurt that comes from the Supreme Court’s overturning its precedent in Roe v. Wade and now the prospect of what the base has been screaming for over the past five years: putting Trump in the defendant’s dock.

It’s a dangerous approach, playing with matches in much the same way they’ve accused Republicans of doing for years. Take the bet Pennsylvania Dems made on John Fetterman to fill the Senate seat Pat Toomey is opening up and defeat the Trump-backed television personality Dr. Oz. Fetterman’s most recent news is that he’s “dragging” Dr. Oz on social media for saying “crudité” instead of vegetable platter. It’s like they’re saying: “Look, we have an angry, bald white man, too!”

It’s the same playbook that held that “Joe from Scranton” would be able to keep blue-collar America quiet and content. If it were just that, the coming election would sort everything out as the better strategy prevails, but …

Charging — or not charging — a major political figure with a crime against the state in the same season as a national election is akin to throwing the rulebook out the window. Former FBI Director James Comey’s clumsy handling of the decision not to charge Hillary Clinton with a classified document handling crime did impact the 2016 presidential election. Denying this is like telling a jury they didn’t see a bloody hammer with the defendant’s fingerprints all over it. Now nobody knows which way the Mar-a-Lago raid will play.

Conventional wisdom is they better have something big, or Merrick Garland better have his retirement plans ready. Not rinky-dink, not marginal, but big. Hanging the decision of whether or not to charge over the country for months like a sword of Damocles will have a boomerang effect on the administration (plus it’s a violation of the right to speedy justice). One should hope by the time this column sees print, the attorney general will have made that call.

Also, for the “no one is above the law” aspiration to appear legit, something is going to have to be done about Hunter Biden. If Trump has committed a serious crime, charge him. But taking no action on the material that has come out of the younger Biden’s laptop — falsely labeled Russian disinformation before the last election — more and more Americans will conclude we have a two-tiered system of justice in this country: one for the powerful and connected and one for everyone else.

So just as the temperatures start to cool, we’re getting pulled back into the smarmy weather of emotional politics. Dress accordingly.

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox
County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.