The Democratic Party’s Biden Talking Points Are Cruel and Tragic (2024)

Politics

Joe Biden got confused by simple questions on TV because of the Beltway press and his makeup artist, and he needs to stay in the race because of a movie about a boxer (who lost).

By Ben Mathis-Lilley

The Democratic Party’s Biden Talking Points Are Cruel and Tragic (1)

Last Thursday, 81-year-old president Joe Biden responded to one of the first questions at his debate with Donald Trump by forgetting what he was talking about and freezing up while mumbling for 20 seconds. He spent much of the rest of the 90-minute event staring at nothing in particular with a pained and vacant expression. Pitched a softball question about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, an issue on which his party holds what is easily the more popular position with voters, Biden started his answer by seemingly conceding his opponent’s oft-made claim (which hadn’t yet come up during the debate) that immigrants are prone to violent attacks on women. (They are not.) Calling it the worst presidential debate performance ever doesn’t do it justice. Biden looked, at times, senile.

Over the weekend, though, the president consulted with his wife Jill and son Hunter, both of whom he reportedly trusts more than any of his advisers. Both reportedly urged him to stay in the race. (One of the advantages that democracy has over hereditary succession is that family members like Hunter Biden, who has a vested interest in retaining power, aren’t usually the head of state’s chief advisers. But these are unique times in many ways.) As such, the institutional Democratic Party is now concocting justifications for him to keep running. And the justifications are no good!

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The party’s response starts with the claim—introduced by Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon in a Saturday memo—that the perception of Biden’s debate performance as disqualifying is the result of groupthink and hysteria, a mania that “the Beltway class” has for some reason manufactured. Wrote O’Malley Dillon, “If we do see changes in polling in the coming weeks, it will not be the first time that overblown media narratives have driven temporary dips in the polls.”

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That’s the public line. Privately, according to reports in Politico and the New York Times, those in Biden’s inner circle do realize that he looked clueless and confused, but they blame other people—and not the president being 81 and experiencing cognitive decline—for that perception. According to Politico, some family members feel that his advisers should be fired because they “over-worked” him in preparation for the debate, resulting in his not being “well-rested” enough on Thursday, a claim that, in addition to having further “Generalissimo’s Sons Purge Counselors in Palace Intrigue” overtones, raises the question of whether world events will be considerate enough to occur while Biden is “well-rested” until 2029, the year through which he is asking U.S. voters to extend his presidency. Per the stories, Biden family figures—possibly including a grandchild whose idea for helping turn the campaign around is to reach out to social media influencers, a first-ballot entry in the “That Oughta Do It” Hall of Fame—also blame CNN, which hosted the debate, for not telling him which camera he would appear on when Trump was speaking, as well as “makeup staff,” who made him look too pale.

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A corollary to these rationales is the idea that Biden merely had a “bad debate night”—Barack Obama’s words, in a Friday tweet—from which, it is implied, he can recover like other candidates who have had bad debate nights. One way to do this would be to have him make unscripted public appearances in which he could show that he’s actually still energetic and articulate, but there appear to be no imminent plans to do that, for the obvious-to-everyone-else reason that mental decline in one’s 80s is not reversible. Establishment figures like Obama adviser David Axelrod and former Biden press secretary Jen Psaki are also arguing that Biden can’t or shouldn’t be replaced because he has already been “nominated by voters in primaries across the country”—those are Axelrod’s words, while Psaki wrote, “The public has already chosen Biden.” This talking point might have merit if the voting hadn’t been held before the candidate had a “sundowning” moment at the very beginning of the first presidential debate.

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Lastly, there’s the idea that Biden doesn’t need to explain to voters what he has done in his first term or what he would do in a second one—polls would disagree—because his record and reputation speak for themselves. California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna wrote that “like Rocky,” Biden’s “character is his eloquence.” In successful campaigns, a candidate’s eloquence is usually his eloquence, and in Rocky, Rocky lost. (Like the other underdog and “fighter” metaphors Dems are using, the analogy additionally fails because in sports, there is no opportunity cost to permitting an underdog to compete in a match or tournament. Although the Bad News Bears are not preventing other teams from playing against the boys from the expensive summer camp, the opportunity cost of Biden’s staying in the race against Trump is potentially quite high.)

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Also making a version of this case is Jill Biden, who is coincidentally appearing on the next cover of Vogue. (On the subject of family members and the trappings of power: The Biden weekend gathering that ended up being used as a referendum on staying in the race was actually prescheduled because of a Vogue shoot.) Jill has, as mentioned, been said by many insiders to be the only person who could persuade Biden to drop out, but she has instead taken on the role of defending him to donors and other party elites. (The ambient notion that only Jill can make the big decision, by the way, seems self-serving: What if Biden’s advisers and Cabinet members threatened to resign? What if prospective donors pulled their money?) She told Vogue that Biden is staying in the race because he doesn’t want to “let those 90 minutes define the four years he’s been president.” (But of course, when they cast their ballots, voters will be choosing a president for the next four years, not defining the previous term. That job is the purview of Slate columnists.) According to the Associated Press, the first lady has also tried to spin the situation by saying, “Anyone can tell you what they want to do, but Joe Biden can tell you what he’s done with his judgment, his experience, and his relationships with leaders across the globe.”

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This latter phrasing, in combination with Khanna’s, seems to concede more than it means to, implying that Biden is unable to speak to voters and may not be engaging with them further. Frankly, it sounds like something people say about someone in their family who is approaching the end of their life. According to the AP, Jill Biden also told donors that after the debate, Biden said to her, “You know, Jill, I don’t know what happened. I didn’t feel that great.” That’s a sad thing to hear someone say. The entire situation is as sad as it gets. But making it into a farce is a choice.

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  • Barack Obama
  • Democrats
  • Donald Trump
  • Joe Biden
  • 2024 Campaign

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