The subheadline on Politico’s “Scenes from Biden’s first encounter with the media in months” — a report on his Tuesday media appearance after a long absence — says it all about what the expectation level from the Democratic presidential nominee is at this point.
“The Trump campaign took credit for smoking Biden out of his basement — only to see him give a gaffe-free performance,” it read.
“Gaffe-free” is highly dependent on your definition of those words. His answer to a reporter’s question — “Have you been tested for some degree of cognitive decline?” — was rather prone to Rorschachian interpretation.
“I’ve been tested, and I’m constantly tested,” Biden said. “I can hardly wait to compare my cognitive capability to the cognitive capability of the man I’m running against.”
That’s a perfectly pithy quote, but he didn’t say what kind of tests he’s been subject to — or whether he was even talking about being cognitively tested as opposed to battle-tested. The question is a rather important one.
It’s important because it’s the ultimate test of whether people are going to trust Biden’s seaworthiness in the White House. It’s difficult for voters to ensconce someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for at least four years when they aren’t entirely sure of whether that individual has a degenerative neurological disease.
That’s not just a question for conspiracy theorists, either, given the gaffes. They’ve been serious enough that almost 4-in-10 Americans believe Biden is suffering from dementia, according to a new Rasmussen poll.
“The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 38% of Likely U.S. Voters think Biden is suffering from some form of dementia,” read a news release announcing the poll, released Monday.
“Based on what they have seen and read, 48% disagree, but 14% are not sure.”
Perhaps more worrisome for Democrats, 1-in-5 in their own party thought Biden was suffering from dementia.
“Twenty percent (20%) of voters in his own party think Biden has dementia. But that compares to 66% of Republicans and 30% of voters not affiliated with either major party,” the news release read.
The survey, which was conducted both online and via landline phones, consisted of 1,000 likely voters between June 25 and 28.
There were other unpleasantries in it for Democrats, including that a vast majority of voters think Biden needs to address the issue.
“Sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters believe it is important for Biden to address the dementia issue publicly, with 41% who say it is Very Important,” the news release said. “Thirty-six percent (36%) say it is not important for Biden to speak out on the issue, including 19% who feel it is Not at All Important.”
This includes a majority of voters who are Democrats or unaffiliated (51 percent).
It’s worth noting the problems with trying to be armchair neurologists or mental health professionals, particularly for those of us who aren’t medically trained. Diagnosing someone from afar is impossible, especially since we only see the candidate in public.
It’s also worth noting Biden was never the most verbally quick candidate, even when he was young and fresh. The Q-and-A format never did him any favors.
That said, it’s very easy to notice diminishing returns on the cognitive level, and Biden’s 2020 run clearly qualifies. The reason he won in the Democratic primaries wasn’t the debates; much like his news conference this week, it was news when he didn’t make a gaffe. When he did, you felt bad for laughing because he seemed like a guy whose heart was willing but mind no longer was able.
One such moment was Biden talking about how keeping the record player on at night would end segregation:
This didn’t end with the debates. If Politico thinks these weren’t representative of Joe Biden as a candidate, remember this was at the beginning of Biden’s hermit period:
“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
Oh yes, and this:
.@JoeBiden: “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” @cthagod: “It don’t have nothing to do with Trump, it has to do with the fact — I want something for my community.” @breakfastclubam pic.twitter.com/endvWnOIV2
— America Rising (@AmericaRising) May 22, 2020
Are we going to pretend that these incidents, given the relative frequency of their occurrence, were pulled from an unrepresentative sample? Did a few months of doing remote appearances from his basement result in the re-emergence of Joe Biden’s intellect? Was a really long mental health day all he needed?
The American people don’t think so.
This poll was taken before Biden’s “gaffe-free” return to something resembling campaigning. I doubt it would have swayed many people. Biden’s gonna Biden, and that includes gaffes.
Eventually, he’s going to have to deal with the issue of his mental fitness for the office.
The polls may look rosy for Biden now. Perception is reality, however. If he doesn’t change America’s perception of his mental state, this is going to be a real problem for him going forward.
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