This sounds a lot like the fable of The Emperor’s New Clothes, only with a lot more than one little boy pointing out the nakedness of the rule. Republican office-holders have largely tried to make any reference to Joe Biden’s age and cognitive issues more indirect, preferring the safer (and clearly well-established) argument of “incompetence” instead. As it turns out, however, even Biden’s allies in the Democratic Party are having sotto voce conversations about his apparent cognitive decline and the implications for both this election cycle and the next.
It’s a dark night of the Democratic soul, reports NY Mag’s Intelligencer, although even then, they dodge the actual question with a euphemistic phrase, emphasis mine:
The lobbyists, donors, staffers, and elected officials were gathering for the spring policy meeting of the Democratic Governors Association [in April], and the scheduled sessions concerned such topics as health care and diversity in governance. But between panel discussions, in the hallways and at the cocktail reception on the lawn, conversation shifted from grim — the midterms — to grimmer: the state of the party’s planning for 2024, when Biden will stand for reelection on the eve of his 82nd birthday. …
He did get Trump out of D.C. and away from the nuclear football. But after the immediate crisis slunk away to Palm Beach, Biden’s presidency passed from early success into torpor, dragged down by a chaotic exit from Afghanistan, sometimes shocking rises in prices, and the determination of two senators from his own party to block his grandest legislation, all while the virus lingered longer than expected. It became clear that Biden’s bridge, to consider his analogy on its terms, wasn’t built to completion at the far side. For liberal and progressive voters, the cognitive dissonance has been significant. It is possible for Democrats to feel profound gratitude to Biden for vanquishing Trump and even to love some of his work as president (Ukraine, vaccines, Ketanji Brown Jackson) and at the same time to retain an intense feeling of unease about a visibly aging 79-year-old whose Republican opponents are only growing more extremist.
Biden had visibly aged by 2019-20, too, especially from the dynamism he displayed as late as the 2012 Democratic convention. Biden’s rope-a-dope presidential campaign in both the primaries and especially the general election could very well have been a strategic stroke of genius, but for two factors. First, it became apparent that Biden did more damage than good in every appearance he made during that cycle, and second, we have since learned that Biden and his team don’t have a strategic bone in their collective bodies.
Biden’s absence from campaigning in the 2020 cycle was based on necessity, not strategy. That’s not possible in the White House, but his handlers have certainly tried it. It’s been more than 100 days since Biden had his last sit-down interview with a national media outlet, at least on camera. His open press conferences, as opposed to press avails and photo splashes, are relatively infrequent. When he does appear in those venues, Biden can sometimes pick up his energy, but of late substitutes a fake anger as a way to project energy and often gets lost in answers.
Maggie Haberman notes that it’s not just the NY Mag Intelligencer that’s hearing these rumblings:
The thing no Dems want to say publicly and many are saying privately > https://t.co/b0Zwm0qOGl
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) May 24, 2022
The problem for Democrats is that their “bridge” to the future is arguably worse:
This might be more straightforward to process if not for the slide in Harris’s public image, which has been in some ways more startling than that of Biden’s. In the summer of 2020, Biden was clear that he chose her to join his ticket in large part because he thought she represented Democrats’ future and saw in her not just the first woman vice-president but also possibly the first woman president. Yet in Washington, that was a political lifetime ago. After the inauguration, Harris took on a substantive but, in hindsight, politically impossible portfolio, focusing on voting rights and the roots of the Central American migrant crisis. As those issues languished, so did her office’s relations with Biden’s. That was a surprise to some in the White House. Biden, a former vice-president, has three former vice-presidential chiefs of staff on his own senior team. Harris was also perceived to have botched a few TV interviews, and within the first year and a half on the job, she replaced much of her staff, including her communications director, chief spokesperson, and chief of staff.
Why should this be surprising, especially at this point? Harris had all the stars aligned for her in 2019 and was widely expected to be a front-running contender for the nomination. Instead, she blew up in the early debates and ran out of steam by October 2019, three months before the first ballot got counted. Ever since, she has only served to remind voters that incompetence really doesn’t have anything to do with age. Even with a prepared speech, Harris keeps producing sound bites like this:
Some programs in the Matrix are glitchier than others, clearly.
The self-satisfied grin at the end of this is *chef’s-kiss* perfect. https://t.co/TKVRW6gjqy
— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) May 23, 2022
The problem for Democrats is that they bought this bridge, and not sight unseen. By doing so, they made it difficult to develop a bench that could wrest the nomination away from a sitting president and VP, even when the party sees the need to do so. They don’t have an effective bench, or even one candidate that can address their greatest gap at the moment — disaffected suburban and rural voters. My friend Paul Mirengoff wrote about that same problem as well, and NY Mag also points it out.
Having foisted a “visibly aging” bungler and an equally-if-not-more incompetent fool on American voters, Democrats are now stuck. In order to have any chance at success in 2024, they would need to pull off the historic trick of switching out both incumbent candidates in the middle of an economic crisis while still insisting that their party’s leadership is what America needs. It’s not just the emperor that is naked at the moment.