Former vice president Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event in Lancaster, Pa., June 25, 2020. (Mark Makela/Reuters)
Stoke chaos, obstruct economic recovery, and hide Biden in the basement till Election Day.
Joe Biden is tragically suffering a mental eclipse and sliding away at a geometric rate. Understandably, his handlers have kept him out of sight. He stays off the campaign trail on the pretext of the virus and his age-related susceptibility to COVID-19 morbidity.
I say “pretext” without apology. Quarantine should not have otherwise stopped Biden over the past three months from doing daily interviews, speeches, and meetings. But each occasion, however scripted, rehearsed, and canned, would only have offered further daily proof that Biden is cognitively unable to be president or indeed to hold any office.
Often Biden cannot finish a sentence. Names are vague eddies in his mind’s river of forgetfulness. He is in a far more dire mental state than a physically failing FDR was in his 1944 campaign for a fourth term.
The earlier career of a healthy Biden illustrates that he was not especially sharp even when in control of most of his faculties. We recall the former sane/nutty Biden of Neal Kinnock plagiarism, his “put y’all in chains” demagoguery, the studied racism of Biden’s riffs about a “clean” and well-spoken Obama, and the sane/insane Corn Pop stories. All are the trademark of a once fool Joe Biden, who was at least alert when compared with his current catalepsy. If Donald Trump can be ungrammatical, Biden is agrammatical — he simply streams together half-thoughts without syntax and then abandons the sentence entirely.
If Trump repeats vocabulary, Biden increasingly searches for words, any noun, whatever its irrelevance to the point he is making. Biden seems to suffer dyscognitive seizures, in which for moments he has no idea what he is doing or saying or where he is — a tragic, nearly epileptic condition. In scary episodes, the pale, scaly, and frozen visage of Biden appears almost reptilian, like a lizard freezing and remaining stationary as it struggles to process signals of perceived danger.
Inserting memorized answers into rehearsed questions, as if the entire con was spontaneous, only reveals how his once episodic dementia has become chronic as he loses his prompt and place. It was understandable that his handlers saw opportunity in secluding Biden during Trump’s tweeting, alongside the contagion, the lockdown, the recession, and the rioting that in voters’ minds had equated fear of chaos with the culpability of the current commander in chief.
But there were always problems with placing Biden in suspended animation in his basement, even as he seemingly surged ahead of Trump in the early-summer polls.
One, seclusion, quiet, and the absence of intellectual stimuli often only enhance dementia, while travel, conversation, and new imagery and experiences tend to unclog for a bit the congested neuron pathways. The more Biden “rests up,” the more he seems to be non compos mentis in his rare staged interviews. His brain is like a flabby muscle, and restful disuse does not make it firmer.
Two, in theory there should be a shelf life to a virtual presidential candidate. True, Biden has climbed in the polls, as the public never sees or hears him — in the manner that an unpopular lame-duck Obama disappeared to the golf courses and retreats in 2016 and yielded the media spotlight to the dog and cat fighting between Trump and Clinton. Obama then discovered that the more he retreated from the public eye, the more the public liked the old idea, rather than the current reality, of him.
So too the ghost model was supposed to work for Biden.
He is a cardboard candidate, but at least he’s not on the front lines of commentary on statue toppling and the contagion, and so he can be blamed for neither.
But by avoiding the campaign trail, Biden is only postponing the inevitable. He is compressing the campaign into an ever-shorter late-summer and autumn cycle. If he really agrees to three debates (he may not agree to any at all), and if he performs as he usually now acts and speaks, then he may end up reminding the American people in the eleventh hour of the campaign that they have a choice between a controversial president and a presidential candidate who simply cannot fulfill the office of presidency. And if Biden is a no-show, Trump will probably debate an empty, Clint Eastwood–prop mute chair.
Why, then, is Biden the nominee at all — other than that he leads in the delegate count and surged after Democrat back-roomers panicked when Bloomberg imploded and Bernie surged? As a result, politicos forced or enticed all the other primary candidates to vacate and unite around someone nominally not a socialist.
Is one consolation that Biden’s dementia offers a credible defense that he has “no recollection” that he was in on Obama’s efforts to surveil an oppositional campaign and abort a presidential transition?
While all Democrats know that the cat must be belled, no one wishes to step forward to do it and remove Biden — and indeed no one knows how to steal a nomination from an enfeebled winner and hand it off to an undeserving but cogent alternative. Take out Biden in August, and who knows what sort of candidate stampede might follow in today’s insane landscape?
So what are these strategies of dementia other than putting Biden on ice while redefining the election as Trump versus the media’s version of the virus, lockdown, and economic stagnation?
Pity is one pretext. The progressive media have put Biden’s blank stares and word searching off limits. We are not supposed to remember that Trump was hounded by progressive M.D.s, to the point that he took — and aced — the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test, an examination that no one in his right mind would suggest Biden now take, given that the results would be no surprise.
Dementia is also about the only valid reason one can legitimately say “I don’t remember.” So ask Joe Biden about those early January 2017 strategy sessions in which Obama, Biden, and their henchmen plotted the surveillance of the Trump campaign and the destruction of Michael Flynn — and he can honestly say, “What administration?” Ask Biden about his illiberal past statements, his associations with neo-Confederate senators, or his plagiarism, and without guile he can retort, “What? What plagiarism? What senators?” Burisma? Hunter Biden’s Chinese lucre? He will look dumbfounded and turn to an aide to ask, “What is Burisma and who is Hunter?”
Democrats also knew that they would lose with an Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, or Bernie Sanders as their masthead. The primaries, even heavily loaded to the left-wing base, taught them that well enough. The hard-left agenda of winter 2020 went nowhere, and it will go less than nowhere in the fall after months of televised arson, looting, and gratuitous violence.
In contrast, even a cardboard-cutout version of Biden offers them the veneer of the “moderation.” A Bill Clinton–style Biden phantom, if elected, can allow a passageway for a leftist surrogate into the presidency, the same way that Harry Truman, a centrist, was put on the ticket in 1944 to save the country from Vice President Henry Wallace’s Communism.
Translated, that means the Democratic donor class accepts that they cannot win while siding with the mobs on the street and their appeasers and apologists — and yet the latter leftists are needed to provide the missing 5 to 7 points for victory. With a wink and nod, the vice-presidential candidate will be seen as assuming the presidency and giving to the Left what they could not achieve through a presidential election — while old Joe Biden from Scranton stares at the TV screen a bit longer to prove he’s not a raving socialist.
Also expect the Democrats to push the following strategies harder and harder, as they square the circle of a demented candidate who nonetheless could prove enormously useful — if he can just get elected.
Expect more calls to cancel the debates as corrupt, fluff, reality-TV pizzazz and utterly unnecessary. Anticipate that the virus lockdown will be prolonged nearly until Election Day and will de facto lead Democrats to call for a Zoom campaign: Biden talking to the camera with a teleprompted script behind the screen.
Election Day voting, we will be told, is merely an ossified construct. The key to our new electoral process is not Neanderthal driving into a COVID-infested polling booth, but rather voter-harvested mail-in ballots.
Expect the vote in November to be declared in advance warped, stolen, and invalid — and then declared valid and fair if Biden wins.
Expect blue states to remain economically mired in quarantines, in hopes of aborting a recovery. Democratic leaders will never really crack down on what heretofore have been blue-state rioting and looting; the chronic chaos and recession will be kept alive and geared to the November election.
Are there problems with such Biden basement strategies? Lots.
A hard-left candidate for vice president will have to do the campaign messaging as a public auxiliary of, and in line with, Joe Biden. She will privately reassure her base that it’s all a moderate con, assuming that leftist voters are sophisticated and cynical enough to be willing to be lied to now for the sake of gaining power shortly.
It will also be problematic to assure the country that Joe Biden is 110 percent fit to be president in November but then to leak to the public by February 2021 that he’s crazy and it’s past time for his radical vice president, regrettably, to move him out.
Using Biden as an empty vessel also assumes that he is at least a vessel. But what if Biden, say, on October 25, 2020, has one of his blank-outs? Or what if he announces once again, but this time at his final rare press conference: “I am going to beat [be] Joe Biden!” What then? Do they call Christopher Steele out of retirement to do a hasty file on Joe Biden, the delusional nut, and use Yahoo or Mother Jones again to leak the dirt in order to switch the order of the Democratic ticket?
Given the current racial hysteria, how do Democratic handlers muzzle the not always latently bigoted Biden? Often dementia is a cruel pathway to the truth, freed from normal self-censorship, politeness, and social awareness. Meaning: What if Biden has more “you ain’t black” moments, or Corn Pop storytelling, or he mimics a black accent to riff about chains, “clean” blacks, and such? And in the present climate, will people be forgiving when he brags that his home state of Delaware was once a “slave state”? One or two such outbursts could shrink his share of the black vote to 80 percent, which would lead to losses in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida.
In the chaos of July, Biden’s handlers have been acclaimed geniuses for anesthetizing him. But in the different season of October, he may finally be forced out from his lockdown, in the wild manner that soon-to-be looters and arsonists at last emerged from quarantine in June — pent-up, angry, incoherent, and self-destructive.
NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump. @vdhanson