A few months from now — around late summer, quite likely — it will all become clear, a burst of blinding hindsight, how the first few weeks of February began Joe Biden’s end. Donald Trump has been saying for months the incumbent won’t be on the ballot, that the Democrats will find a way to winkle the old chap out of the way before the first Tuesday in November provides voters an opportunity to do it for them. It is becoming increasingly likely Trump is right. That Biden is unfit to serve is now not merely obvious but part of the official record, courtesy of Special Counsel Robert Hur’s damning appraisal of his wits, what remains of them. But how to be rid of him? That’s what Democrats must settle between now and the closing speeches of their mid-August convention in Chicago. According to some, California Governor Gavin Newsom is the standby saviour. For others, inspiration blesses desperation with visions of Michelle Obama ascending the Inauguration dais on a cloud of Oprah-like adulation. Perhaps there is a white horse, some unknown hayseed governor, to appear and save the day, but right now the question of who will replace Biden is secondary to the never more obvious fact that, by hook or by crook, he simply has to go.
This past week brought everything wrong with Biden into a focus much sharper than the character who naps and bumbles through the farce his administration has become. On Tuesday Biden spoke of chatting with Francois Mitterand and Helmut Kohl, each long dead and the former misidentified as the German chancellor, while attempting to recount a godnoswot anecdote in which, not once but twice, he lost the thread of his thoughts entirely. Then came news Biden would not be availing himself of the invitation to answer three minutes’ of softball questions as part of this weekend’s Super Bowl TV coverage. Trump skipped the ‘traditional’ interview in 2018 to show his contempt for CBS; Biden, one is tempted to guess, because he’s over his head handling even the most shallow questions (‘So, Mr President, is it hot dogs or hamburgers for you today?’). Then came Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report on the various caches of documents he wasn’t supposed to have retained, especially in the garage, and Biden’s lot grew measurably worse.
For quite some time now, Obama acolytes have been gently suggesting — quietly, no trumpets — that Biden’s cognitive difficulties make him a dubious contender. As far back as November, Obama intimate David Axelrod, leader of his 2012 re-election campaign, wondered if “it’s wise” for a man of such advanced years to run again. He has since followed up with pointed observations about the liabilities of Biden’s advanced years. The mumbling about Biden’s fitness has been bubbling away, mostly as a background buzz, although it did grow slightly louder after Michelle Obama shared her fears for the country if Trump regains the White House. Why did the Obama camp trot her out, especially now? A question that remains to be answered.
Hur’s findings make you wonder why he chose to frame his observations of Biden’s mental state in terms that at times verge on cruelty. Was he so concerned by the shambling, disputatious dotard with whom he conducted five hours of interviews that he felt obliged to raise for the record his Commander in Chief’s loss of faculty and competence? Whatever inspired such bluntness, the report speaks of Biden needing prompts to recall when his vice-presidency ended, even the year of son Beau’s death. An emergency klaxon must have sounded in the office of his White House handlers, because they gulped hard and concluded there was no choice but to get him on the telly as a demonstration of vigour and mental vitality. This was a Code Red reaction as Biden’s normal contact with the press is limited to the White House lawn, where his words must compete with his helicopter’s turbine. After the Mitterand/Kohl debacle and the Super Bowl cop-out, the decision to put Biden on full frontal prime time would prove to be a very bad week’s strike three, not least because, at the end of an horrifically inept display he confused Egypt with Mexico.
To be fair, Biden began on a solid note, confidently, albeit with a touch too much gusto, proclaiming he would not face any charges. He did not disclose anything top secret or even moderately secret, he insisted, including the names of intelligence assets. Hur spends page after page establishing he most certainly did reveal operations and identities. Biden next switched from misrepresented innocence to outrage, fulminating that of course he knew every detail of Beau’s final battle, had been at bedside, felt a pain that never heals. It was an angry, offended, grieving performance and mig ht have been more convincing if he didn’t tell so many whoppers, many of those staple lies about his family and their tragedies. He has variously claimed to have lost Beau “in Iraq”, so the other night’s outraged ‘You think I would…forget the day my son died?’ does ring a bit hollow. He didn’t, as he claims, top his law school class, graduating instead near the bottom. He wasn’t a college football hero. Nor did his first wife and their one-year-old daughter die in an auto accident caused by “a drunk truck driver”. The truckie, who was entirely sober when Neilia Biden ploughed into him,attempted until his death to stop Biden accusing him of manslaughter, but those efforts all proved fruitless. When Biden locks on to a fancy it schtiks.
How though to send him on his way? Surely there are conversations going on across Washington about the chances of a quiet approach succeeding, an evening visit by a party elder with a message that the time has come. Barry Goldwater paid such a call on Richard Nixon, who resigned the next day. But here the Democrats have a problem, for these days their party has no elder statesmen, no consiglieri of, say, Clark Clifford‘s calibre to speak with the voice and authority of the establishment. That party no longer exists, instead there is the intersectional stack of mutually abrasive interest groups and identity factions that, up until now, has held together despite its gays-for-Gaza absurdities and feminists not noticing the burqas and hijabbing of young girls. As long as all could sup their fill at the public trough, each to his own, comrade. Why make a fuss? There is no indication in Biden’s bristling remarks of the other night to suggest he would in any way be receptive to doing something for the common good.
Could he be bought off? The promise of immunity for himself, Hunter, his brother? Possibly. If Democrats on the various committees investigating the Biden clan’s dealings show signs of being less robust in his defence, that would be a sign. Likewise, if the intelligence community begins leaking against him. What, never heard of Deep Throat?
And there’s always luck. Another tumble, a medical episode before convention time in Chicago. A truly bizarre episode, one even more alarming than a president who sees dead people. One of fate’s happenstances, might just do it, leading some on the right to gloat about invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, which specifies how to deal with a disabled president. Here history offers little encouragement. Woodrow Wilson was allowed to remain in office for the final year of his term after a stroke that left him speechless. His wife claimed to understand his whispers and relayed them to cabinet, which is something one might easily imagine Dr Jill imitating. So incapacitation, physical or mental, is an option only if it happens. Allowing that Biden isn’t gamboling naked in the Rose Garden snow, what would be the point of replacing him in any case? President Kamala Harris? No, the Democrats don’t think so either.
But go he will. Make no mistake, because the Democrats can’t afford to keep him, as evidenced by the latest polls. So it has to be at the convention, when the old ticket expires and the new is endorsed. Kamala can be scratched without letting her anywhere near the Resolution Desk and then … Newsom … Michelle … Taylor Swift …
Who knows who or what, except that Joe gotta go, the Democrats know it and, after this week, so does the rest of America.