In 2016, the primary issue that plagued Democratic presidential standard-bearer Hillary Clinton was extrinsic: Was she a crook?
Then-FBI Director James Comey seemed to try to dispel that image somewhat during the summer of that campaign when he announced Clinton wouldn’t be prosecuted for mishandling classified information on her private email server.
He un-dispelled it in October, when he announced more emails had been found on the laptop of notorious sexter and all-around degenerate Anthony Weiner, the husband of Huma Abedin, Clinton’s key aide and campaign vice-chairwoman.
Clinton was quickly cleared from the reopened investigation and it remains a matter of debate how much Comey’s October announcement contributed to Donald Trump’s upset victory over Clinton in the November election. The emails were the symptom of the larger issue, however: Clinton couldn’t be trusted.
In 2020, the primary issue that’s going to plague Joe Biden is intrinsic: Is he mentally up to the task?
No one can diagnose a politician from afar — and, in fact, mental health officials are officially enjoined from doing so by the American Psychiatric Association’s so-called “Goldwater Rule.” That said, anyone who’s watched Biden’s public activities can tell this is a man exhibiting what I’ll charitably and euphemistically refer to as mental diminishing returns.
This isn’t just some crank millennial conservative telling you this, either. In fact, a majority of voters in a recent Zogby poll said they believe Biden is suffering from the “early stages of dementia.”
The poll, conducted June 1-2 and released Wednesday, found 55 percent of “likely voters” thought it was more likely than not that Biden had dementia compared with 45 percent who didn’t.
The poll, which drew 1,007 respondents, was conducted online.
“Using internal and trusted interactive partner resources, thousands of adults were randomly invited to participate in this interactive survey. Each invitation is password coded and secure so that one respondent can only access the survey one time,” Zogby reported.
It had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
There is a caveat, which is that online polls may not be as as high quality as traditional polling. Still, the findings should be far from comforting for the Biden campaign.
An especially worrisome number: Nearly a third of self-described Democrats agreed it was more likely than not Biden had the condition.
“Overall, subgroups who normally approve of Trump’s job as president, were the most likely to believe Biden could be suffering from dementia,” the poll read.
“Thus, majorities of Republicans (77% more likely/23% less likely) and Independents (56% more likely/44% less likely) thought Joe Biden had early-onset dementia; while nearly a third of Democrats (32% more likely/68% less likely) thought this was the case.”
Those aren’t good numbers for Biden. If this were a partisan issue, you’d be seeing numbers far lower than 32 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of independents saying they thought the former vice president was in a state of mental decline.
The good news for Biden, according to Zogby, was that majorities of “some important subgroups did not believe the vice president was exhibiting a declining mental capacity.”
This included women and respondents over 65 — but both were split 50-50 on the matter.
And “voters aged 18-24 (60% more likely/40% less likely) and 18-29 (59% more likely/41% less likely) were more likely to believe Biden had dementia than” older voters, Zogby reported.
Turning out younger voters was a problem for Hillary. It was also the death-knell for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, which had a base that skewed unusually heavily toward the university-socialist type who didn’t tend to turn out for primaries.
I suppose older voters being less concerned about Biden’s cognitive difficulties is a bit of a win for Biden, considering their tendency to turn out for elections. They’re still split evenly on whether a man they’ll be voting into the nation’s highest office is exhibiting the early stages of a progressive disease that might mean he couldn’t serve eight — or even four — years in the Oval Office.
Also remember: This poll was taken after Biden had been in imposed hibernation in the basement of his Wilmington, Delaware home, from which he made media appearances that didn’t always go well.
“Are you at all concerned, as President Trump said, we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself?”
“We have to take care of the cure that will make the problem worse no matter what”
Um, what? pic.twitter.com/VylTvzO3Tw
— Elizabeth Harrington (@LizRNC) March 24, 2020
Even before “the new normal” for the rest of us, the new normal for Biden was shorter speeches to ensure he didn’t say anything that’d end up on Twitter the next day.
“Biden’s event in St. Louis, framed by the Gateway Arch, clocked in at around seven minutes Saturday,” The Washington Post reported on March 9. “A short time later, at a windswept event in Kansas City, people were streaming for their cars after Biden wrapped up in 12 minutes. His longest speech of the weekend, in the gym of Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., didn’t quite make 15 minutes.
“It is a seismic shift for Biden, 77, who in five decades of political office and three White House runs has never had a reputation for breviloquence. It’s a habit perhaps nurtured in the Senate, which prides itself on limitless debate and has a special term — filibuster — for talking endlessly.”
Even then, the Post reported, Biden made a few gaffes, like when “he derided Mississippi’s former governor for not accepting Medicare-for-all — which happens to be [Bernie] Sanders’s chief policy proposal — instead of the Affordable Care Act.”
The concern over Biden’s wellness seems palpable in the media interest over who his running mate will be.
Yes, the selection of the second half of a presidential ticket always takes on a life of its own. Yes, there’s added cultural significance this time, considering the fact that Biden’s pledged to choose a woman — and that he’s now coming under additional pressure to pick a woman of color, given the current social climate.
However, there’s an unspoken undercurrent in the discussion that Biden is perhaps choosing someone who’ll be president sooner rather than later.
Biden would no doubt dismiss these as the concerns of a lying, dog-faced pony soldier, but it’s something he’s going to have to contend with — particularly given the fact that this whole presidential election shebang includes debates, a forum in which Biden acquitted himself poorly on repeated occasions between last summer and this spring.
Proving that he’s fit for office when a majority of Americans think he’s evincing signs of dementia is going to be an uphill challenge, particularly for a man who’s gaffed his way through every other challenge this primary season.
Hillary couldn’t dispel the idea she wasn’t a crook, which is part of the reason she’s now wrapping up promotion work for her documentary series on Hulu instead of stumping for her own re-election. A similar fate potentially awaits Biden if he can’t convince Americans his capital-P Problem isn’t going to be an issue.
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