Yesterday was a year’s worth of a rising wave that came crashing down on Democratic hopes for 2024. They had hoped Republicans, motivated in part by constant lawfare attacks, would nominate Donald Trump — only to tear their party apart during the summer as denial of election eligibility in key states made clear he had no path to victory. They had hoped that by carefully managing Joe Biden, with access even more locked down than during the height of the pandemic, would survive questions of age and infirmity. And they had assumed the special counsel’s report, while sure to include some damning equivalence with Trump’s stacks of Mar-a-Lago memorabilia, would be a story for a news cycle, easily survived and ultimately unmemorable.
Things have not gone according to plan, to say the least. Partisans who cheered the Mar-a-Lago raid in its moment have to be asking themselves if they would have been better off never opening this inquiry. The special counsel’s report puts in black and white what Americans have believed, suspected or feared: the president is literally too feebleminded to be prosecuted for his obvious violation of the law. Calling it the Uncle Leo defense or the Vincent “The Chin” Gigante defense is wrong, because it’s actually the Abe Simpson defense: they were faking it — Biden really is coping with senility, with the nuclear codes just out of reach.
The biggest problem with this declaration is that, as much as Biden’s defenders on Morning Joe can huff and puff that everything is fine, it is an ever-present statement of fact tied directly to the president, the man. Where Hillary Clinton’s email server and Hunter Biden’s financial improprieties are scandals based on past activity, this indictment of President Biden’s mental capacity is constant and self-reinforcing, with visual and audio proof offered every single time he steps up to a microphone — including last night, when Biden showed why he doesn’t often talk after the late hour of 7 p.m. lest he confuse Cairo with Cabo.
The report hands Republicans a frame for the entire fakakta situation that allows them to escape accusations of ageism: the president is feebleminded. His own government lawyers told us so, this is an indisputable fact, backed by the moral authority of the Democrats’ lauded and unimpeachable Department of Justice. And for the Democrats, this truly is a moment of crisis. For Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi (who cares about Hakeem Jeffries), do they actually pull the trigger on taking that trip to the White House to tell Joe it’s time to go? Can they replace him at this point even if they wanted to? This is about more than just Joe Biden’s legacy, after all — and their new slogan “vote for the vegetable” is sure to win over those Swifties they need in November.
So here’s the question that remains: how does Donald Trump screw this up? Because it’s still very possible he could! It’s a long time until Election Day, and he is his own worst enemy. But it is possible, as one astute podcast listener suggested to us on this week’s Thunderdome, that the president’s legal struggles are just the distraction needed to keep him away from a campaign operation that seems far more focused than his prior efforts. Trump needs to remember that the only thing worse than losing to the pandemic version of Joe Biden in 2020 would be losing to the doddering version on display today, a punch-drunk fighter failed by his corner who should have thrown in the towel a long time ago.