The worst time to prepare for an emergency is after the disaster is already upon us.
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9/7 CNN Poll: Biden faces negative job ratings and concerns about his age as he gears up for 2024… President Joe Biden faces continued headwinds from broadly negative job ratings overall, widespread concerns about his age and decreased confidence among Democratic-aligned voters, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS.
As we noted in this very apt cartoon we ran recently on WhoWhatWhy, the enemies of the Biden administration, masters of projection that they are, wish us to believe that Joe Biden is both an evil mastermind bent on destroying our society and values — and a drooling, nonfunctioning figurehead.
The reality, of course, is that Biden is neither. He is not fundamentally an evil person, and he is not totally spent as a human being with things to say and do.
Nonetheless, questions about his fitness for office are being raised, and we can only expect the matter to be magnified as the months pass before November 2024.
Republicans speak loudly about it. Democrats mostly discuss it in whispers or simply banish the issue from their minds altogether.
As one person I know, a former longtime elected official on the state level, put it to me,
“I haven’t heard a peep on this. If anyone is doing anything, they’re doing it in the dead of night. No one even wants to think about the possibility he may not be able to make it.”
For what it is worth, this person says he believes Biden will “make it” — whatever that means. But he also admits to having no idea what would happen if Biden proved to be no longer up to the job, or whether anyone is preparing Plan B — an alternative ready to pivot to at any time.
It’s never a good policy to put one’s head in the sand and simply hope for the best — especially when the enemies of democracy are gleefully exaggerating the situation, and hoping for the worst.
The reality is that we’re all fragile, and susceptible to the vagaries of life, at any age. Even in the best of circumstances, bad things can happen to any human being, and we should always be prepared.
In the case of Biden, we have a range of “what if” scenarios. And of course, there is also the matter of when each what if were to occur.
What if, between now and the informal start of the campaign (are we already there?) Biden shows more worrisome signs of slippage? What if it becomes unmistakably apparent that he isn’t up to it?
What if he just gradually starts screwing up or appears to be screwing up more and more, a la Feinstein? What if this begins to accelerate in the next weeks and months? Or, what if he suddenly starts declining during primary season? Should there and will there be challengers? What if a major problem arises during the fall campaign of 2024? What then?
And what if such a moment were to arrive — just before the election?
Clearly, it would be far preferable to have a conversation about alternatives now, to calmly consider what other options exist and how we might, if necessary, pivot to them.
The worst time to prepare for an emergency is after the disaster is already upon us.
To be sure, a public conversation on this could cement the idea he’s a wobbly top, not to be relied on. Yet the GOP will plaster this everywhere, all the time, anyway, and swing voters will be exposed to it, so saying and doing little or nothing doesn’t seem a very good strategy.
There’s a long history of sick and dysfunctional presidents.
Woodrow Wilson had a massive stroke in October of 1919 and historians agree that he was no longer able to govern. Some believe that Wilson had a previous stroke in 1906, so was already ill before he became president.
John F. Kennedy was in poor health all during his presidency.
An even more remarkable parallel to Biden is Eisenhower. He had a heart attack in 1955 — three years into his eight-year presidency — from which he never really recovered. He slurred words like Biden and was far more aggressive than Biden in foreign policy — the Suez Crisis, Indonesia, Operation 40 (a group formed to seize control of Cuba after Bay of Pigs invasion), and an overall worsening of the Cold War. The media was silent on his condition.
And Ronald Reagan was clearly lurching into dementia during the 1984 campaign. Some reporters noted this but it was never consistently reported. It seems likely that Reagan’s declining mental health and corresponding abdication of his leadership role to George H.W. Bush and others were contributing factors in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Yet severe health issues never became an issue for Eisenhower or Reagan, despite the fact that they appeared disoriented some of the time (in Reagan’s case during an election).
And reporters made little of Donald Trump’s apparent mental decline and disorders until after the 2020 election. Now, despite his constant nonsensical, unhinged comments, he is still treated as a sharp, if calculating, political force.
No Matter What, There’s Always Kamala
Perhaps because Democrats have found themselves on the defensive for so long, with the GOP running a relentless bashing game while ignoring their own liabilities, for some undecided voters it may well come down to how they respond to Joe-drubbing.
One person I know, a DC-based Democratic consultant, told me: “I know of people muttering about a Plan B, but not much, and definitely not until Plan A goes terribly wrong.”
Seemingly, the Biden campaign is at least doing something, even if it is just reminding Democrats that there’s a backup in the wings.
The other day, while I was visiting a friend and discussing the difficulties facing the Democrats at a time when that party ought to be soaring, he got this email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Subject line: praying you’ll see this
______, our beloved President and Vice President have BOTH asked for your help to RESTORE our critical Democratic House Majority. >>
Vice President Harris called on us to help put the House back in Democratic hands:
President Biden reached out personally with an urgent request for your support:
We’re answering Joe and Kamala’s urgent pleas with a HISTORIC fundraising surge — 11,767 Democratic Member gifts — to ELECT House Democrats, DEFEAT Republicans, and RESTORE our Majority. Can our House Democrats count on you to help make Joe and Kamala proud?
Pretty clearly, they’re ramping up citations of the vice president, reminding us of her. But why? Is it just that candidates usually mention their running mate? Or that she represents a different, and needed, demographic in the electoral math?
Or that she may at some point become president?
Could growing efforts to push Harris front and center have something to do with the Trump/MAGA forces’ relentless efforts to cast doubt on Biden’s fitness to serve — and to serve another term? Could it be a reminder that there’s a younger, more vigorous vice president standing by? Albeit one that seems to inspire more MAGA-hate than does Biden himself.
If Biden can’t function a Cabinet member can invoke the 25th Amendment. Harris takes over if Biden has to step down. If he dies either before the election or after he’s reelected, Harris takes over.
However, if Biden had to leave office during primary season, other Democrats might challenge Harris.
Getting Down and Dirty
The Republicans, of course, are weighed down by a mountain of problems and desperately need distractions.
Their man Trump was a one-term president who grabbed Rudy Giuliani’s out-of-nowhere proposal that he claim the election was stolen and hammered that until the country practically came apart. Right now, both Trump and a welter of his advisers face potential prison sentences.
Against that gloomy reality, all they’ve got are the following phony or mostly thin stories, the will and ability to keep hammering on them, and the means and audience that can treat these as true and serious even when they are neither:
- Biden stole the election
- Biden is corrupt
- Biden enabled a takeover and the destruction of America as we once knew it
- Biden has dementia
We can expect them to double down on all of these. It would behoove Biden and the Democrats not to hide from them.
In terms of the first one, the legal system seems capable of revealing to most people’s satisfaction that, no, the election was not stolen.
Most people don’t see meaningful evidence that Biden is corrupt, and the media have looked into the allegations and reported they haven’t seen anything to the contrary.
Destruction of America as we once knew it? This is about the “woke” debate, which is complex and nuanced and tough for the Dems to handle, though of course they will try, to some extent.
But the worries about Biden’s health are one thing they cannot dismiss.
Unquestionably, he is less than a picture of youthful vigor, dexterity, poise, or mental sharpness.
People will argue over whether he has always been less than ideal on those fronts, precisely how much he has slipped, how fast, and what is the point of no return.
Biden is not and never has been mediagenic. Now he’s old, shuffling, and stumbling, verbally and physically.
Also, paradoxically, he gets attacked for talking about huge issues that many Americans are just not interested in, such as the Ukraine war and global warming or anything outside their lives (aside from having a job and not getting mugged).
But the economy has been at full blast, with even inflation coming down this year. The Biden administration has created 13 million new jobs.
By comparison, Trump lost 3 million in four years — though much of that had to do with COVID-19.
Unemployment has fallen to record lows. Inflation in the US is down from 9 percent last year to close to 3 percent now, while still over 6 percent in Europe. By so many indicators, the US is doing better than so much of the rest of the world.
When another peril comes along — as the Saudis, who abhor the Democrats and love doing business with the Trump clan, predictably further reduce oil production next spring to spike US gas prices at the pump — Biden will surely tap back into the Strategic Petroleum Reserves to lower prices again.
It’s fair to say that so far there have been many actual successes for the president on things that used to matter to Americans. Reagan looked enfeebled from ’84–’88 but the economy was robust, so Americans — including many Democrats — loved him. It’s an open question whether Biden will garner such appreciation in time for the election.
Still, no matter what Biden does, MAGA will condemn him. And that MAGA/American Taliban lock in about 40 percent of the vote. That intense hatred of Biden/government/modernity gives any Democrat very limited electoral elbow room.
Being old is a good target for the opposition just like Barack Obama’s race and Bill Clinton’s libido and candor issues, though both were rewarded for economic success in their first term.
Of course, times have changed and a president’s ability to perform effectively on television is considered essential to national and global trust in the US’s leadership/role.
This brings us around to: If Biden needed to be replaced at the top of the ticket, and the nominee could be anyone, who might it be?
My California politician friend got to me after a bit: “Since you just mentioned it, today I picked up some second-hand rumblings about replacing Biden, from labor, but as I expected, no other great choices in sight.”
A few names I’ve heard tossed around include Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and moderate Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Some come with significant downsides.
The expected GOP standard bearer, Trump, is both in questionable shape and facing mountainous legal peril, while generating chaos within the party. And, it must be underlined, the Republicans don’t have any obvious winners in the wings either.
Of course, there’s not much here that will please the “politically astute.” Not that the politically astute have seriously addressed the donkey in the room.
Even if Biden isn’t striking the right chord with Americans, the political alternative feels poisonous, so if Biden can’t be brought down for doddering, it’s probably no contest.
So off we go, Joe Biden and us, all doing the very best we can with what we have. Fingers crossed. And, one hopes, risks and alternatives openly acknowledged and discussed.