President Biden and former President Donald Trump are now in a legal death match, where, for either one to stay out of prison, his opponent will probably go to prison.

The Biden Democrats have made no secret that they are willing to do almost anything to put Mr. Trump behind bars. The necessity of locking up Mr. Trump for Mr. Biden and his family to remain free has become even more acute given the added evidence of wrongdoing by the Biden family. Mr. Biden has to be reelected to be certain that no member of his family, including himself, is convicted of any felony with prison time or, if convicted, pardoned. Mr. Trump has to be elected for him to be certain that the Biden Justice Department will not continue to pursue him until they have a conviction on some felony with jail time.

Mr. Trump already has three indictments against him, and he will likely have four in a matter of days. These indictments are in different jurisdictions for different alleged crimes, and each indictment carries multiple counts. The risk to Mr. Trump is that, if even most of these indictments are political and without real merit, a conviction of a few counts on any one of the charges could put him in the big house. To assume that his lawyers will be able to get all of the charges tossed or for Mr. Trump to be found innocent on all charges is a bet that most people would not want to make. (Again, remember that Mr. Trump will face different juries — some of which are likely to be hostile — for different charges in different places.) Assuming that any conviction can be dragged out in the appellate process for months or even a couple of years, Mr. Trump’s only certain home-free card is winning the presidency with the ability to pardon himself.

Mr. Biden is in an equally difficult position if he does not win reelection. Mr. Trump is unlikely to forgive the hell he has been put through. When Mr. Trump was elected in 2016, he failed to fully understand how vicious the Washington swamp is and how important it was to have the right people on his team. He made a number of personnel mistakes when initially putting together his Cabinet — most notably by picking the weak and timid Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who failed to protect him from the Russian hoax, etc. Mr. Trump is unlikely to make that mistake again if elected. He is likely to pick a smart and tough AG who will clean up Justice and the FBI and pursue the Biden family and other crooked Democrats until they are locked up.

It is already obvious that unbiased prosecutors will have many possible charges to bring against the Biden crime family, including bribery, money laundering, treason, tax evasion, etc. To date, many Democrats have been making absurd excuses for all of the obvious wrongdoing by the Bidens. As the Babylon Bee headlined in jest: “Democrats Say It’ll Take A Lot More Than Eyewitness Testimony, Bank Records, Audio, Video, Complete Confessions, For Them To Believe Biden Did Anything Wrong.” Fools in the press, who are incapable of seeing criminality by Democrats for either partisan reasons or because they are stupid, might continue to buy the “innocent” line for a bit longer until the evidence becomes so overwhelming that even the dimmest among them might notice that there is a problem.

Given that the stakes are so high, the contestants are likely to resort to almost anything to win — not a pleasant thought for our democracy. The loser will not be taking out the other guy for a beer the day after the election.

For those who are not old enough to remember, many of our presidential contests used to be highly civil. When President Ronald Reagan ran for reelection against former Vice President Walter Mondale, there were no personal attacks because both were nice and honest men. They argued over issues: defense, taxes, regulations, spending. The debates were good-humored. When questions arose about Reagan being too old (he was 73 at the time, seven years younger than Mr. Biden is now), Reagan responded to Mondale that he was “not going to exploit, for political purposes, [his] opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Everyone laughed, including Mondale.

Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton spent time together as friends after Mr. Clinton defeated Bush. The 41st president lost because of self-inflicted wounds — failure to stick with his “no new taxes” pledge and “flexible freeze” to control spending. It was ironic that Mr. Clinton in his second term and Speaker Newt Gingrich passed the last budget with a surplus.

At the moment, it is difficult to see a graceful exit from the current mess. For the country’s sake, it would be best if both Messrs. Trump and Biden would walk away and allow a new generation of Republicans and Democrats to run against each other. For this to happen, there would need to be an ironclad agreement from the next president (Republican or Democratic) to pardon both Messrs. Trump and Biden.

There is a partial precedent. After President Richard Nixon resigned, President Gerald Ford pardoned him, causing a firestorm of criticism at the time, which quickly subsided. In retrospect, most agree that Ford did the right thing. It put the agony of Watergate in the past, and the nation almost immediately went back to normal. Ford understood that the continuation of the American republic was far more important than the fate of any president.

• Richard W. Rahn is chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.

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