Biden's ABC News interview was the Democrats' worst-case scenario – Vox.com

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Biden's ABC News interview was the Democrats' worst-case scenario – Vox.com

The president appeared too frail to defeat Trump and too delusional to drop out.
by Eric Levitz
In his first interview since last week’s disastrous debate, Joe Biden appeared too frail to defeat Donald Trump and too delusional to end his campaign.
Far from easing anxieties about his candidacy, the president’s sit-down with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News should further alarm Democratic leaders. Biden’s remarks indicated that his party may be heading toward a worst-case scenario, one in which the president is largely incompetent as a campaigner but not so consistently and flagrantly inept that his incapacity to win reelection becomes undeniable, even to himself.
Had Biden seemed every bit as ill and confused as he did at last week’s debate, it would be easier to persuade him to drop out — or at least, for Democrats to unify behind a concerted push for his exit. If the president had somehow appeared to grow a decade younger over the past eight days, then he could conceivably have rescued his campaign. Instead, he did better, but still awful. Which means that salvaging the Democratic Party’s chances will require a wise and courageous show of defiance from its congressional leadership. It is not clear that one is in the offing.
The president’s aim in Friday’s interview was clear: to establish that all the disquieting features of his debate performance — the incoherence, shaky voice, and vacant facial expressions — were all one-off aberrations brought on by a cold and poor preparation rather than symptoms of cognitive decline. There probably wasn’t any plausible way of making this case. (By the time the interview aired, the Washington Post, New York Times, and NBC News had all published stories indicating that Biden had repeatedly suffered similar mental lapses behind closed doors in recent months.) Biden’s attempt to sell the idea that his debate performance was a total anomaly verged on self-parody.
Stephanopoulos asked Biden whether he had gone back and watched the debate after it happened. The president replied with an odd uncertainty, saying, “I don’t think I did, no.” The ABC anchor asked whether he knew how badly the debate was going in the moment.
Biden then attempted to articulate one of the White House’s primary talking points about the debate: that he had prepared for it as though it were a meeting with a foreign leader, digging deep into complex policy details, which only served to distract him from communicating his big-picture case to the American people. But the president lost his grip on this thought before he could complete it, and then slid clumsily into two totally different talking points (that his polling isn’t that bad, that Trump distracted him with a parade of lies), both of which he failed to express coherently.
The whole way I prepared, nobody’s fault, mine. Nobody’s fault but mine. I, uh — I prepared what I usually would do sittin’ down as I did come back with foreign leaders or National Security Council for explicit detail. And I realized — bout partway through that, you know, all — I get quoted the New York Times had me down, at 10 points before the debate, nine now, or whatever the hell it is. The fact of the matter is, what I looked at is that he also lied 28 times. I couldn’t — I mean, the way the debate ran, not — my fault, no one else’s fault, no one else’s fault.
Biden grew more coherent as the interview continued, but he also became more detached from reality. The president denied the validity of all unfavorable poll results, including surveys showing that Trump expanded his national lead since the debate while Biden’s approval rating slid to an all-time low.
Most concerningly for Democrats, Biden suggested that no information could possibly dent his belief that he is his party’s best hope for defeating Trump. At this point, that idea lacks all credibility. Biden has long trailed his Republican rival nationally and in every major swing state. In recent surveys, more than 70 percent of the public considers him too old to serve. Myriad Democrats have now gone on record saying that he should not be running for president and/or that their interactions with him made them fear for his cognitive well-being.
No interview or stump speech can erase these revelations. The news media will not stop scrutinizing the copious evidence of Biden’s senescence. The Trump campaign will not forget that it now possesses a treasure trove of humiliating clips of Biden’s brain freezes and devastating quotes from the president’s allies. Given this climate and the candidate’s limitations, it is not plausible that Biden can surge in the polls between now and November.
Yet the president appeared prepared to write all of this off.
“I remember them telling me the same thing in 2020,” Biden said. “‘I can’t win, the polls show I can’t win.’ Remember the ‘red wave’? Before the vote, I said, ‘That’s not going to happen. We’re going to win.’ We did better in an off year than almost any incumbent president has ever done.”
Here, Biden was referring to predictions that the Republican Party would win a landslide in the 2022 midterm elections. And it is true that Democrats greatly outperformed expectations, dominating many of that year’s most hotly contested races. But the polls in 2022 were also quite accurate by historical standards, and Republicans did win both the national popular vote and control of the House of Representatives. Nevertheless, Biden argued to ABC News that polling is not as accurate as it used to be.
Unwilling to reconsider his candidacy, Biden also proved averse to proving his mental fitness empirically, refusing to commit to submitting to cognitive and neurological tests and then sharing the results with the public.
Finally, the president ended the interview with a Trumpian bout of self-flattery, one that also served as an implicit rebuke of his vice president’s readiness to manage foreign affairs. “Who’s gonna be able to hold NATO together like me?” he asked rhetorically. “Who’s gonna be able to be in a position where I’m able to keep the Pacific Basin in a position where we’re — we’re at least checkmating China now? Who’s gonna — who’s gonna do that? Who has that reach?”
The Biden who spoke with ABC News Friday night was enfeebled, ineloquent, egotistical, and intransigent. He was a man who appeared both ready and willing to lead his party into the wilderness. Asked how he would feel if he stayed in the race and Trump were elected, Biden replied, “I’ll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the goodest job as I know I can do, that’s what this is about.”
This is not the president’s best self.
What this moment asks of Biden is no small thing: to forfeit immense personal power so as to give his party its best possible shot of keeping an authoritarian reactionary out of office. Many statesmen would not be capable of summoning the humility and selflessness necessary for doing so. I still hold out hope that the president’s commitments to liberal democracy and the Democratic Party are in earnest and that he can find his way to such heroic self-knowledge and sacrifice.
After Friday night, however, it is clear that he needs his trusted friends in the Democratic leadership to show him the way.
Before Biden’s interview aired, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner was trying to unite his colleagues behind a push to get Biden out of the race. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, meanwhile, planned to discuss Biden’s candidacy with his chamber’s top Democrats on Sunday. If blue America’s congressional leaders join Democratic donors and backbenchers in imploring Biden to step aside, the president will likely accede to their demands. If they follow the lead of South Carolina congressman Jim Clyburn and pretend that Biden’s performance Friday night settled all questions about his fitness for the nomination, then they will likely condemn America to a second Trump presidency.
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