It’s fun to do, and hard not to, but the game of mocking Joe Biden’s mental decline brings with it a pretty significant risk that many conservatives, and maybe even the Trump campaign, aren’t prepared for – what if Joe Biden shows up in the debates and pulls them off?
I’m not suggesting Biden will win the debates, at least not in any real sense – the few times he’s bothered to take questions, including the CNN town hall Thursday that couldn’t have been friendlier if the questioners were limited to his own campaign staff, he mostly tossed meaningless word salads that anyone paying attention should feel sorry for him over. But all the “Joe Biden won’t even show up” and “Joe Biden is so far gone, Trump is going to eat his lunch” pre-debate spin inadvertently lowered the bar for his performance that all he has to do is not literally soil himself in the middle of it for the left to declare him the victor.
Remember the 2000 election? What was the liberal narrative about George W. Bush in the lead up to the debates? That he was an idiot, a lightweight who had to pick Dick Cheney as his running mate in order to give the ticket “gravitas.”
No one had any expectations for Bush’s performance in the debates. Al Gore had been vice president for eight years and was a bit of an egghead who’d “invented the Internet.” The question going in was how big of an idiot would Bush come off as?
Bush didn’t come off as an idiot. Whether you thought he’d won or not depended on what you thought going in, but to the undecided public expecting to watch a buffoon fall on his face, they saw a governor handle himself quite well, especially compared to what they’d been conditioned to expect. Gore, for all his experience, came off as an arrogant ass who’d invaded the personal space of Bush, eliciting a “WTF nod” from the Texas governor, which ended up being what people remembered from all of it.
Bush won by simply not wetting himself, the substance didn’t matter. If you read the transcripts of the debates you may wonder how anyone could be considered as having “won,” but that Bush didn’t come off as a moron gave him the victory – he exceeded expectations, and that’s all it usually takes.
Presidential debates aren’t decided on points, trophies aren’t awarded at the end. Victories come about through zingers and memorable lines, and by beating expectations. President Trump is absolutely the better candidate for the former – there may be no more talented president when it comes to off-the-cuff remarks dripping with humor that stick.
On the expectations front, the president is at a distinct disadvantage, as any incumbent always is. They’re the president, they should be well-versed in everything because they’re on the job already.
For Biden, he may be entering the debates next weekend with the lowest expectations ever. We’ve all seen the clips of him lost, stopping in mid-sentence as his train of thought derails, or simply stringing together a group of words that have no connection to each other or reality. Those clips have gone so viral that it’s tempting to think that’s all he is. It’s not.
I watched that town hall Thursday. Aside from all the lying, which the media ignored, he handled himself fine. He wasn’t great, he had his “senior moments,” but was largely passable. And that’s all the has to be. Not to convince you or me, but to convince a group of voters who don’t watch Fox News or live on social media. And there are a lot of those.
By repeating the idea that Joe Biden will fall on his face in any debate, anything short of him doing just that will be exceeding expectations and could deliver him an undeserved victory. Never give ammunition to your opponent, and many on the right have done just that.
Biden, for all his obvious mental decline, has been playing the game of politics for 50 years. He’s never been sharp, but he’s always been good at the mechanics of projecting that he knows what he’s doing – he knows when to flash his unnaturally white smile and for how long. He’s debated a lot, so much of what he’s learned over his career is a reflex more than anything else.
Republicans shouldn’t be lowering expectations for his debate performance, they should be raising them. While there’s a chance he’ll make a fool of himself, there’s more of a chance he won’t. It’s fun to talk about how far he’s declined, but that just makes the bar he has to clear that much lower and the odds that he will that much higher.
Look, I think Joe Biden’s policies would be disastrous for the country, and I definitely believe he’s not up to the job. But I know he can hold it together well enough for a 90-minute TV debate and fool a lot of people, especially if they’re expecting him to start screaming like an old man complaining about the soup that comes with the blue-plate special. To pretend otherwise is crazy.
Derek Hunter is the host of a free daily podcast (subscribe!), host of a daily radio show on WCBM in Maryland, and author of the book, Outrage, INC., which exposes how liberals use fear and hatred to manipulate the masses. Follow him on Twitter at @DerekAHunter.
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