It is a well-established fact that Joe Biden is prone to gaffes and misstatements. He has been in the public eye for over 40 years, and during that time voters have seen, heard and read countless of them. Up until now the media and much of the public has largely given him a “pass.” The prevailing attitude has been “Oh, it’s just Joe being Joe.” Many of his supporters have characterized them as “charming” and “harmless.”
I’m not so sure about that. For instance, he once said: “You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” I wouldn’t characterize that kind of comment as “charming” or “harmless,” especially from a presidential candidate. Even Joe, himself, has embraced his propensity for gaffes. Earlier this year he acknowledged he is a “gaffe machine.”
But, I submit that now things are different. First of all, he is running for president, the highest office in the land. As Senator he was able to get by due to his local popularity in the State of Delaware, his general likeability, and the fact that the office, though important, was only one of 100. As Obama’s VP he was running for the second spot on the ticket; the focus was all on Obama; few voters base their choice on the VP; it’s all about who’s running for president.
Secondly, Biden is now 76 years old. The gaffes reinforce the idea that he may be “slipping.” Anyone who has observed him on the campaign trail or in the debates would have to conclude that he doesn’t appear to be as sharp as he used to be. As reporters Dylan Stableford and Christopher Wilson, writing for Yahoo News, put it, he “may not have the stamina for what would likely be a brutal campaign against President Trump.” Then, if he were to be elected, the question would be could he serve as president effectively in what is probably the most stressful and highly pressurized job in the world. As President Trump succinctly put it recently: “He has lost his ‘fastball.'”
Now that Biden is campaigning more actively, the gaffes are coming more frequently and the media is starting to pay closer attention to them. For example, during the last few days while campaigning in Iowa Biden committed the following gaffes:
1. He inaccurately stated that as VP he met with some survivors of the shooting at Parkland High School. The trouble is that particular shooting occurred over one year after he had left office. In a vain attempt at damage control, as one of his campaign workers told “Bloomberg News,” he was likely confusing that incident with the Sandy Hook shootings, which did occur while he was VP.
2. During a speech he stated that “we choose truth over facts.” Huh?
3. He confused Margaret Thatcher (Britain’s former Prime Minister) twice, once with Angela Merkel (Germany’s PM) and again with Theresa May (Britain’s current PM).
4. During the last debate he stumbled over explaining the cost of “Medicare for all;” he confused the term insurance deductible with insurance co-pay; and most embarrassingly, he stumbled over instructing supporters how to text support for his campaign.
The foregoing are just some examples. Taken singly, one could argue that each one was minor. “What’s the big deal? Everyone stumbles over his words once in a while.” The problem is that these are part of a pattern. Cumulatively, minor gaffes become a major problem.
Despite the gaffes and poor debate performances Biden is still leading the Dem field comfortably. For example, a Survey USA poll released in the last few days has him at 33%, compared to Sanders at 20% and Warren at 19%.
Many observers, however, including me, have doubts that he will be able to sustain his lead and secure the nomination. I believe that the “proof in the pudding” will come as the campaign ratchets up, people start voting in the primaries, the scrutiny of the media becomes more intense, and the candidates begin attacking each other, in earnest.
Perhaps, the greatest fear among Dem Party insiders is that Biden secures the nomination and then is unable to handle the sustained pressure of campaigning against Mr. Trump in the general election. After all, the Dems may be fighting among themselves now, but, make no mistake, their primary goal is to defeat Mr. Trump. Right now, in a weak field of flawed candidates Biden gives them the best chance of doing so, but prospectively, maybe not. Time will tell. Stay tuned.