April 21, 2022 6:23 pm ET
This column recently suggested that President
avoid public speaking, at least on weighty topics such as weapons of mass destruction. There’s no constitutional reason he can’t limit his communications to written statements, and his spontaneous remarks have proven to be especially troublesome. So far the president has not chosen to follow the advice of your humble correspondent.
The relatively good news is that this week Mr. Biden’s misstatements have not related to potential adversaries with large arsenals of nuclear weapons. But the issues he’s now addressing are not trivial. Steven Nelson reports for the New York Post today:
President Biden on Thursday confused his administration’s effort to restore a mass transit mask mandate with an expiring policy used to turn away most illegal immigrants when a reporter asked about the Title 42 border measure.
Biden’s press team once again had to issue a written statement afterwards that claimed the president misspoke and meant to comment only about masks.
“I want to clarify that, in comments at the conclusion of my remarks this morning, I was referring to the CDC’s mask mandate and there is no Department of Justice action on Title 42,” read the statement, attributed to Biden.
Why not use statements attributed to Mr. Biden all the time in lieu of his spoken statements?
A Tuesday press dispatch cited anonymous sources for a Biden comment on another issue that is not exactly trivial for the country. Amie Parnes and Morgan Chalfant reported in The Hill:
President Biden has told former President Obama that he is planning to run for reelection in 2024, two sources tell The Hill.
The admission to Obama is the latest indication that Biden is likely to run for a second term, something the president has spoken about publicly…
“[Biden] wants to run and he’s clearly letting everyone know,” said one of the two sources familiar with the conversations between Obama and Biden.
The Hill report is certainly plausible. The reporters add:
The White House did not provide comment on the conversations between Biden and Obama. A Biden adviser pointed to the president’s public comments that he intends to run again.
One can only imagine how Mr. Obama responded, especially given his well-documented sense of humor. While the Hill is essentially reporting that Mr. Biden’s private position is the same as the one he’s previously expressed publicly, it clarifies a number of questions the president will have to face.
Even before his disturbing recent series of misstatements on highly consequential issues, many voters had already decided that Mr. Biden is not up to the job of being president. In late February Dan Balz, Scott Clement and Emily Guskin of the Washington Post reported on the results of a Post-ABC News poll:
An underlying weakness affecting perceptions of Biden’s performance in office is the degree to which people have doubts about his personal capacities. On the question of whether he is a strong leader, 59 percent say no and 36 percent say yes — closely aligned with his overall approval rating. Among independents, 65 percent say he is not strong.
On an even more personal question, 54 percent say they do not think Biden has the mental sharpness 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. At that time, the findings were roughly reversed: 51 percent said candidate Biden possessed the mental sharpness needed to be president compared with 43 percent who said he did not.
Not surprisingly, Republicans and Democrats have wholly opposite views on this question. Among independents, a critical group in the upcoming election, 59 percent offer a negative assessment of the president’s mental sharpness, a rise of 13 points since May 2020.
Cartoonist and political pundit Scott Adams might say that by talking about running in 2024, Mr. Biden is attempting to talk “past the sale” and avoid discussing the fact that a large swath of the electorate thinks he’s not capable of doing the job today. There are two years and nine months remaining in his current term. Will pollsters now ask voters how mentally sharp they expect Mr. Biden to be in the years 2025-29?
Normally there’s not much of a discussion about other potential party nominees when an incumbent President intends to seek re-election. But as Chris Smith wrote in Vanity Fair in March:
President Joe Biden says he intends to run for reelection in 2024. And that Vice President
will again be on the ticket with him…
So this is going to be a very short story. Right?
Maybe if Biden’s job approval numbers hadn’t started sinking in July, gone underwater in August, and plunged, by several counts, into the weak low 40s as the new year began. Perhaps if COVID cases and inflation hadn’t been trending in the opposite direction during that same stretch, the latter boosted in February by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And certainly if, when the next presidential campaign is in full swing, Biden was not going to be closing in on his 82nd birthday. “I’m just going to be brutally honest about this,” says a national Democratic strategist. “But I don’t think he’s physically up to being able to run again. I’m optimistic that by the summer of 2024 the country is going to be back to 95 percent normality—and he’s going to have to run a vigorous, hard campaign that he didn’t in 2020. He’s not going to be able to stay in the basement.”
It’s true that Mr. Biden will not be able to run another campaign from his basement.
It’s also true that long before 2024, Mr. Biden or the people who attribute statements to him are going to have to discuss and disclose more information relevant to his fitness for the job.
James Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”
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