Everyone seems to think President Donald Trump will clean up in the upcoming presidential debates against former Vice President Joe Biden. The basic argument goes that Biden’s mental state has declined so much that Trump will make a fool of him on the debate stage. He might even avoid the debates because of his mental decline. I disagree for three reasons.
First, Biden has been in a dozen primary debates– including a one on one with Bernie Sanders– and did a national convention speech. He’s done fine in all of them. Not only did he do well in the primary debates, but he managed to win the primary. If Biden was so cognitively incoherent that he couldn’t get past three debates with Trump, you would have expected any of the nearly two dozen Democratic candidates to have expose him.
Second, riding Biden for his semi-usual gaffs might be a good meme on MAGA Twitter, but it’s a terrible campaign strategy. Lowering expectations for Biden by hunting for every minor gaff in hundreds– if not thousands– of hours of video and overemphasizing them only makes things easier for Biden. If voters are so unsure about his mental capacity that they think he might skip the debate then him just showing up and sounding coherent would be a massive win. And Biden has managed to do that over a dozen times over this campaign.
Lastly, when talking about Biden’s cognitive abilities the terms of the conversation are almost always set by Trump supporters so we almost always avoid talking about Trump’s mental state. Biden is tarred as basically having dementia because he occasionally uses the wrong word or phrase but imagine if Biden said this:
“With the Air Force, we’re ordering a lot of planes, in particular the F-35 fighter jet, which is, you know, almost like an invisible fighter. I was asking the Air Force guys, I said, how good is this plane? They said, well, sir, you can’t see it. I said, yeah, but in a fight — you know, a fight — like I watch in the movies — they fight, they’re fighting. How good is this? They say, well, it wins every time because the enemy cannot see it. Even if it’s right next to it, it can’t see it. I said, that helps. That’s a good thing.”
Imagine the heat Biden would take from Trump supporters for a comment like that. Yet, Trump gets a free pass– but I’m not sure he would if he made a comment like that during a national presidential debate as millions across the nation watch. If Biden makes a comment about a record player but Trump goes on a tangent about an invisible jet, which do you think voters would be bothered by more?
Exit quote: “Until recently the Trump campaign’s line on Sleepy Joe was that he was in late-stage mental decline and would probably duck the debates altogether to avoid revealing that to the world. We’re now 18 days away and someone, probably Stepien, finally figured out that reducing expectations for Biden to the point that he only need speak in complete sentences to prove he’s fit for office was a bad idea. Stepien’s new line: Joe Biden may be a moron and a policy disaster, but he’s an expert debater.”