This column recently suggested that President Joe Biden should avoid speaking publicly, at least on weighty issues like weapons of mass destruction. There is no constitutional reason why he cannot limit his communications to written utterances, and his impromptu utterances have proved particularly troublesome. So far, the President has not decided to heed the advice of your humble correspondent.
The relatively good news is that Mr Biden’s misstatements this week did not relate to potential adversaries with large nuclear arsenals. But the issues he is now addressing are not trivial. Steven Nelson reports today for the New York Post:
President Biden on Thursday confused his administration’s efforts to restore a mask mandate for mass transit with an expiring policy that turned away most illegal immigrants, when a reporter asked about the Title 42 border measure.
Biden’s press team was then again forced to issue a written statement alleging that the president had expressed himself incorrectly and only commented on masks.
“I want to clarify that in the comments concluding my remarks this morning, I was referring to the CDC’s mask mandate and there is no action by the Department of Justice on Title 42,” the statement, which is attributed to Biden, read.
Why not consistently use statements attributed to Mr. Biden instead of his spoken statements?
A Tuesday press release cited anonymous sources for comment by Biden on another issue not trivial for the country. Amie Parnes and Morgan Chalfant reported in The Hill:
President Biden has told former President Obama he plans to seek re-election in 2024, two sources tell The Hill.
Admission to Obama is the latest indication that Biden is likely to run for a second term, something the president has spoken publicly about…
“[Biden] wants to run and he’s clearly letting everyone know,” said one of the two sources familiar with the Obama-Biden talks.
The Hill report is certainly plausible. The reporters add:
The White House did not comment on the Biden-Obama talks. A Biden adviser referred to the president’s public statements that he intends to run again.
One can only imagine how Mr. Obama reacted, especially given his well-documented sense of humor. While The Hill essentially reports that Mr. Biden’s private position is the same as the one he has previously stated publicly, it clarifies a number of questions the President must address.
Even before his troubling recent spate of false statements on highly consequential issues, many voters had already decided that Mr. Biden was no match for the presidency. In late February, The Washington Post’s Dan Balz, Scott Clement, and Emily Guskin reported the results of a Post-ABC News poll:
An underlying weakness affecting perceptions of Biden’s performance in office is the extent to which people have doubts about his personal abilities. When asked if he’s a strong leader, 59 percent answer “no” and 36 percent answer “yes” — similar to his overall approval rating. Among independents, 65 percent say he’s not strong.
On an even more personal question, 54 percent say they don’t think Biden has the mental acuity it takes to serve as president, while 40 percent say he does. The last time this was asked in a post-ABC poll was in May 2020. Back then, the results were roughly the opposite: 51 percent said candidate Biden possessed the mental acuity needed to run for president compared with 43 percent saying it wasn’t.
Not surprisingly, Republicans and Democrats have polar opposite views on this issue. Among independents, a critical group in the upcoming election, 59 percent negatively rate the president’s intellectual acuity, up 13 points since May 2020.
Cartoonist and political pundit Scott Adams might say that by talking about running in 2024, Mr. Biden is trying to “talk beyond the sale” and avoid discussing the fact that a large segment of voters believe , he was unable to do the job today. His current term of office is two years and nine months. Will pollsters now ask voters how mentally sharp Mr. Biden will be in 2025-29?
Usually, when an incumbent president intends to run for re-election, there is not much discussion about other potential party candidates. But as Chris Smith wrote in Vanity Fair in March:
President Joe Biden says he intends to seek re-election in 2024. And that Vice President Kamala Harris will be back on the menu with him…
So this is going to be a very short story. Right?
Perhaps if Biden’s job admissions numbers hadn’t started falling in July, went underwater in August and plunged into the tenuous low 40s on multiple fronts as the new year began. If COVID cases and inflation had not trended in opposite directions over the same period, the latter would have been boosted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. And certainly if, by the time the next presidential campaign got under way, Biden wasn’t heading towards his 82nd birthday. “I’m just going to be brutally honest about this,” says one National Democratic strategist. “But I don’t think he’s physically able to walk again. I’m optimistic the country will be 95 percent back to normal by the summer of 2024 – and he’ll have to campaign hard, hard, which he didn’t have in 2020. He won’t be able to stay in the basement.”
It is true that Mr. Biden cannot run another campaign from his basement.
It’s also true that well before 2024, Mr. Biden, or the people attributing statements to him, will need to discuss and disclose more information relevant to his suitability for the job.
James Freeman is co-author of The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.
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