Biden’s big bluff … so much for bravado

By Byron York

Until a week ago, President Joe Biden seemingly had the age issue under control. Yes, he had senior moments, some of which were quite severe, such as the episode at the White House Juneteenth concert in which he weirdly froze for two minutes, silent, eyes fixed straight ahead, body absolutely motionless. But commentary on such moments was mostly confined to a few news outlets; much of the White House press corps seemed to accept the Biden press handlers’ explanation that the stories were “cheap fakes” created by Republicans to hurt the president politically. It’s hard to understand why any observant reporter would accept such an explanation, but some did.

Everyone knew that polls showed large majorities of Americans, including large majorities of Democrats, thought that the 81-year-old Biden was not physically and mentally capable of serving as president of the United States for another term, until he is 86 years old. Everyone also knew that the public had fewer such concerns about 78-year-old former President Donald Trump, Biden’s rival in the 2024 election. Nevertheless, with a big assist from the press, the Biden campaign was able to keep the age issue on the back burner.

And then Biden blew it all up. On May 15, the president posted a video on X of himself taunting Trump about a debate. “Donald Trump lost two debates to me in 2020,” Biden said in the video. “Since then, he hasn’t shown up for a debate. Now he’s acting like he wants to debate me again. Well, make my day, pal.”

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Biden’s moment of Dirty Harry bravado will go down as one of the most spectacular self-owns in American political history. Biden mocked Trump as a loser and a coward. He dared Trump to debate him. He was eager for a showdown. Then Trump took him up on it, and the rest is history. Biden’s bluff was called, in dramatic fashion.

Now, we are still in the early stage of repercussions from Biden’s terrible, troubling performance in the debate. First there was Democratic panic. Then there was retrenchment, as top Democrats settled on a Joe-had-a-bad-night explanation. And now there are growing doubts mixed with fatalism as the polls appear to show significant damage from the debate, while Biden appears to be dug in and many Democrats despair of the effort to remove an unwilling incumbent president from the party ticket.

A word on the polls. After the Trump conviction, it was a good idea to wait a couple of weeks for voters to digest the news and figure out what they think. The same is true with this debate. It hasn’t even been a week since the debate, and both sides have been obsessing over polls.

That itself tells us something about the depth of concern about the damage done by Biden’s performance. The campaign released internal polling that purported to show Biden was unhurt by the debate – which was a pretty good sign that they believe Biden has been hurt by the debate.

Now, Biden supporters are turning on each other and especially on the president’s inner circle. Sometimes even on Biden himself. In a new Politico account, insiders describe an isolated, cranky president who relies on the advice of a very tight group of advisers and basically ignores everyone else.

“Inside the White House, Biden’s growing limitations were becoming apparent long before his meltdown in last week’s debate,” Politico reported, “with the senior team’s management of the president growing more strictly controlled as his term has gone on.” Aides worried about presenting the president with negative information because “that will set him off,” one senior administration official told Politico: “He is not a pleasant person to be around when he’s being briefed. It’s very difficult, and people are scared s–tless of him.” The official continued to say that Biden “doesn’t take advice from anyone other than those few top aides, and it becomes a perfect storm because he just gets more and more isolated from their efforts to control it.”

That is not a good situation. Meanwhile, people are noticing that Biden isn’t doing the normal sort of things a president would do to clean up after a major gaffe or some other campaign mistake. He wants to show that he is up to the job? How about a news conference, taking all questions for at least an hour? He wants to show his vigor? How about a few days of rigorous, all-out campaigning, traveling and speaking? Biden isn’t doing it.

It’s a mess. And it all stems from Biden’s moment of hubris, when he thought it was a great idea to goad Trump into a debate that would turn into a disaster – for Biden.

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