The president’s greatest legacy would be to make way for someone else in 2024.
Halfway through a ceremony this past week, without saying anything, the president just wandered off the stage through the crowd to somewhat stunned silence. The same thing happened in an MSNBC interview on live television not so long ago. He just stood up stiffly — and meandered away.
Every time you see Biden walk, he seems, well, in his eighties: he’s slow, careful, stilted. Every time you hear him speak, he’s also just a little off, eyes now barely visible in the ancient, botoxed, fillered face, words often slurred, a ghostly white mane peeking over his collar in the back, occasionally rallying to the point, or strangely loud-whispering. My old friend Joe Klein wrote this week:
He seemed so old. His eyes were slits, he turned the pages of his very prepared remarks haltingly. He slurred his words, slightly. His physical condition overwhelmed the message. He assayed passion in a few closing sentences about the racist murders in Jacksonville, but it wasn’t passion that came across — it was the attempt to convey passion.
This is the man the Democratic Party says will be fully able to function as president for five more years through the age of 86. No one rooted in human reality believes it, or should believe it.
In the latest brutal polling, 49 percent of Democrats say Biden is too old for reelection. An additional 20 percent said their “biggest concern” is either: his “mental competence, sharpness, senility,” his “health,” his “stamina” or his “risk of dying.” So in fact, nearly 70 percent of his own party thinks his age is a serious concern. Overall, only one in four Americans believe he has the “stamina and sharpness” to serve as president, and 67 percent of his own party want someone else to run in 2024.
Making his campaign about resisting MAGA extremism — and barely campaigning in person because of Covid — worked last time. It won’t next year. The Establishment has had three years to paint Trump as a threat to democracy and a rogue, lawless maniac — and the failure to persuade the public at large of this is all around us. This is not for lack of material: the January 6 Committee did a great job; at least two of the indictments are damning to any neutral observer; and Trump’s behavior is still clearly deranged and getting crazier all the time.
And yet the two candidates are basically neck-and-neck in the polls. What Trump has done — again! — is a form of jujitsu: he’s using the actions of law enforcement to empower his paranoid narrative of the establishment set against him. He’s turned every attack on him into a kind of qualification for his base and those alienated by everything related to the establishment. I wish he hadn’t. But he has. His ability to survive and actually thrive these past three years is staggering. It’s part of a political genius his enemies continue to under-estimate.
Yes, Trump is almost as old as Biden. But he has the energy and stamina and obsessiveness of the truly mentally ill. I started to read his interview this week with Hugh Hewitt, and yes, it was a festival of delusion and lies and occasional decent points. But what struck me also was the zeal, untempered by time, the persistent, angry passion, the untiring drive to regain power. He is not what he was, and, appearances to the contrary, is mortal. But up against Biden, he seems like raw energy.