Last week, Special Counsel Robert Hur dropped a bombshell report about Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents, in which he described Biden as an “elderly man with a poor memory.” The report was politically devastating because it corroborated what most Americans already suspect.
And in response, Donald Trump effectively said, “Hold my beer!”
During a South Carolina rally on Saturday, Trump said to Nikki Haley (whose husband is deployed overseas, serving our country): “Where’s your husband? Oh, he’s away. He’s away. What happened to her husband? What happened to her husband? Where is he? He’s gone! He knew. He knew.”
That same day, Trump also warned that he would not defend NATO allies who don’t meet their defense expenditure guidelines. “No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want… You got to pay your bills.”
Then, on Super Bowl Sunday, Trump wrote, “I signed and was responsible for the Music Modernization Act for Taylor Swift and all other Musical Artists. Joe Biden didn’t do anything for Taylor, and never will. There’s no way she could endorse Crooked Joe Biden… and be disloyal to the man who made her so much money…”
And just like that, Trump threw a drowning Biden a lifeline. Prior to Trump’s intervention, a media feeding frenzy had ensued. Even mainstream media outlets and liberal pundits “put a spotlight” on the issue of Biden’s mental acuity,” as Fox News noted.
“This is terrible for Democrats,” former Clinton advisor Paul Begala said on CNN. “Anybody with a functioning brain knows that.” (A comment that was a little too on the nose, if you ask me.)
Indeed, the story of Biden’s memory problems had legs. It was a hot topic on the Sunday morning shows (albeit, with Biden surrogates attempting to downplay questions of the president’s mental fitness). And it even had a timely tie-in to the Super Bowl, where Biden’s decision to forgo a pre-game interview elicited boos from Begala’s old partner, Democratic strategist James Carville.
“It’s the biggest television audience,” Carville lamented. “And you don’t do it? That’s a kind of sign that the staff or yourself doesn’t have much confidence in you. There’s no other way to read this.”
The problem for Biden (and his team) is that he does not have the physical or rhetorical capacity to change what we already know about him: He’s too old for this shit.
“Biden is stuck in a Catch-22,” Walter Shapiro explains at The New Republic. “The only way to combat the nefarious… charges that Biden is senile is to send the president out in public for long stints without a teleprompter. But every time Biden emerges from the protective cocoon surrounding him, he runs the risk of misspeaking…”
The good news for Biden is that the story was knocked off the front page, so to speak, by Trump.
Rather than allowing Biden to wallow in weeks of bad press, Trump preferred that we instead talk about his favorite subject: Trump. And, in typical fashion, we obliged. Trump is catnip for the media, and his comments (whether he’s talking about Haley, NATO, or Swift) are legitimately newsworthy.
And his comments are also telling in regards to how Trump might behave if given a second term. Each of these examples reinforces a narrative about Trump’s character and worldview.
Attacking Haley’s husband fits perfectly with a man who is known for insulting military families.
Alienating allies and threatening to pull American support NATO is also familiar territory.
Trump’s assumption that Swift owes him loyalty is reminiscent of expectations he’s had for people he allegedly helped—ranging from Rep. Debbie Dingell (he gave her husband “the absolute highest U.S. honors for his funeral”) to Jewish Americans (“No President has done more for Israel than I have”). Most non-MAGA people don’t like condescending, transactional bullies, so you have to expect this kind of behavior is a turnoff to the swing voters who will decide the 2024 election.
It’s also no surprise that Trump joined in on the inexplicable culture war battle that MAGA declared on Swift and her boyfriend, Travis Kelce. But it’s also hard to fathom how picking a fight with one of the most popular and well-liked celebrities on Earth and a football superstar playing in the Super Bowl—perennially the most-watched television event of the year—will appeal to anyone but the most online of the MAGA swamp.
And the Kansas City Chiefs’ thrilling overtime victory gave Biden’s social media handlers the opportunity for a quick and succinct burn, as they tweeted a “Dark Brandon” meme with the caption, “Just like we drew it up”—a direct reference to the bonkers MAGA conspiracy theory that the Chiefs’ success and the Swift/Kelce romance are part of a Deep State “psy-op.”
Again, “normal” people don’t like this deranged stuff that plays so well to the Trump base. It also shows how even on someone else’s big day, Trump has to be the center of attention. To paraphrase Alice Roosevelt, Trump has to be the pop diva at every concert and the star of every Super Bowl.
Under normal conditions, this kind of self-centeredness is off-putting. But Trump interrupting a narrative about Biden being too old was also strategically stupid.
It’s safe to say that attacking service members who are deployed is not a majority position in America. Likewise, getting crosswise with Taylor Swift (and the Swifties) is unwise. And U.S. support for NATO is surprisingly popular.
These latest instances of Trump stirring the proverbial pot are dumb—but not as dumb as him changing the subject from the “Is Joe Biden senile?” conversation.
Apparently Uncle Joe isn’t the only one struggling with cognitive ability.