The Democrats’ Biden Problem Is Letting Trump Off the Hook

We tanked it, Joe.

by Ash Sarkar

28 June 2024

Joe Biden at a presidential debate in Atlanta, Georgia, June 2024. Kyle Mazza/Reuters

Here we are on our backwater island, enduring a general election where despite a massive polling disparity, there is no great enthusiasm for either candidate. Should Labour’s 20+ poll lead result in Keir Starmer moving into No. 10, he’ll have the worst net satisfaction score for any leader of the opposition entering government.

What grave sin did we commit as a nation to be afflicted with two such candidates? Don’t worry, it’s clearly not as bad as whatever America did to wind up cursed with Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

So, about last night. Rishi Sunak can breathe a sigh of relief that while his debate performances didn’t turn around the Tories’ polling collapse, at least they didn’t wind up with people questioning his cognitive fitness for the top job. Biden, in a head-to-head with Trump on CNN, was aimless, inarticulate, and at times incomprehensible. One rambling sentence from early on in the debate, quoted verbatim, went like this:

“Making sure that we continue to … strengthen our healthcare system, making sure that we are able to make every single solitary person eligible for what I have been able to do with the Covid, excuse me, with dealing with everything we have to do … look, if we finally beat Medicare.”

I’m not a doctor, despite the best efforts of my South Asian mother. It’s not my place to go diagnosing someone I’ve never met. But perceptions and spin matter. When you’ve got an 81-year-old on television visibly struggling to put together a coherent sentence, appearing frozen at some times and totally vacant at others, you can guarantee that speculation will run rampant about his condition. For what it’s worth, Biden himself blamed a “sore throat” and the difficulty of debating “a liar” for his debate performance.

Politics has always been unkind to those with health issues, and that’s even without considering the impact of something like age-related cognitive decline on doing the job. Ideally, you wouldn’t hear words like “dementia” or “Alzheimer’s” being mentioned in the same breath as a presidential candidate. And when Democrat-leaning outlets like NBC run stories with headlines like “Biden’s memory issues draw attention, neurologists weigh in” in an election year, supposedly to reassure voters that he’s fit for office, you can safely say that it’s not going well.

Meanwhile, Trump’s falsehoods in the debate became ever-more outlandish. He claimed that Democrat-governed states allow babies to be executed after birth (not true), that there were no terror attacks during his presidency (there were several), that he created the Veterans Choice programme (Obama did that). But while news channels did their best to debunk after the debate, the fact is that Trump basically got away with it. Instead of focusing on Trump’s politics and policies, all eyes are on the Democrats and what they’re going to do about Biden.

The Democrats are in a state of panic. Anonymous insiders have said that last night’s showing “confirmed their worst fears” about Biden’s health, and the conversation this morning is dominated by arguments about whether he should step aside for another candidate to run against Trump. Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist and “friend” of the president, was hot off the presses with an article saying Biden “has no business running for re-election”.

“If he insists on running and he loses to Trump,” he added, “Biden and his family — and his staff and party members who enabled him — will not be able to show their faces.”

What next? Inevitably, the period between now and the Democratic National Convention in August will be dominated by speculation and bloodletting, as the party wrestles with whether Biden should be the name on the ballot come November. That’s not what you want in what was always going to be a difficult reelection pitch.

Ash Sarkar is a contributing editor at Novara Media.

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