Has Joe Biden suddenly outlived his usefulness? That is what many conspiracy-theory-inclined Americans are saying as the fuss mounts around the classified documents found at one of the president’s offices and his home in Delaware.

The theory goes something like this: the midterms are out of the way, Trump’s power is waning, and everybody in Washington knows that Joe Biden is too old and doddery to fight on to the 2024 presidential election and beyond. So, the "Deep State" — the secretive government powers who really rule America — feels it can now safely shuffle out...

Has Joe Biden suddenly outlived his usefulness? That is what many conspiracy-theory-inclined Americans are saying as the fuss mounts around the classified documents found at one of the president’s offices and his home in Delaware.

The theory goes something like this: the midterms are out of the way, Trump’s power is waning, and everybody in Washington knows that Joe Biden is too old and doddery to fight on to the 2024 presidential election and beyond. So, the “Deep State” — the secretive government powers who really rule America — feels it can now safely shuffle out the old man and bring in another Democratic leader. Dial up the sinister background music.

At one level, such thinking is yet another example of the paranoid style in American politics. Yet conspiracy theories often derive their power from elements of truth.

There are forces in the Democratic establishment who would now like Joe Biden to take his long-overdue retirement. And the circumstances of this “classified documents” story are fishy, to put it mildly. Just because you’re paranoid, as Joseph Heller didn’t quite say, doesn’t mean they’re not lying to you.

Let’s start with the timing. The first ten of these documents were found, allegedly, on November 2, just before the midterm elections. On that day, Joe Biden’s personal lawyers just happened to be rooting around his private office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement when they came across a file marked “personal” that contained some sensitive state documents that shouldn’t have been there. As every loyal pro-Democratic hack in America will be quick to add, they then did the right thing, alerted the National Archives and promptly handed them over. How very much more proper than dastardly Donald Trump, who illegally hoarded a far larger number of documents at Mar-a-Lago and refused to give them back etc, etc.

But was that initial discovery as accidental as Team Biden makes out? What were Biden’s private lawyers doing digging about in that office at that time? Could it have something to do with the fact the Republicans were just about to win back the House of Representatives, which would give Biden’s opponents the congressional power to investigate parts of his past that he would rather leave unexplored?

Donald Trump calls the Biden family the “the Biden crime family” — and that, of course, is Trumpian hyperbole. But anybody who has read in any detail about the business affairs of Jim Biden, Joe’s brother, and the president’s notoriously troubled son Hunter, knows that the slur is not altogether inaccurate. There are plenty of dodgy dealings in the Bidens’ past. The shadiest period appears to have been during Barack Obama’s second term, when Joe was still vice president and the family endeavored to cash in on his influence wherever possible.

Which brings us back to these discovered files with classified markings, which all allegedly stem from Biden’s time as VP. And some other important questions: what exactly is the purpose of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement of the University of Pennsylvania, which was established in 2017, after Joe Biden left office? Is it just, as its website says, to “engage Penn’s students and partners with its faculty and global centers to convene world leaders, develop and advance smart policy.”

In the two years after it was launched, foreign donations to the University of Pennsylvania tripled, reaching $61 million — much of it from China. How involved was former vice president Joe Biden, who at that time was making considerable sums of money himself, in the Center that bore his name? Clearly, classified government files from his time in power found their way to the Center’s Washington office.

Another key question: why is the story only coming out now — two months after the first lot of files were handed over and almost a month after Biden’s lawyers flagged that another set of “files with classified markings” had been discovered in Biden’s home in Delaware?

The story has broken just after Joe Biden may or may not have made a decision about his future during his Christmas holiday in the Caribbean. After a rough couple of years, Biden appeared to be enjoying what one of his aides called a “jolt” of political momentum as 2023 began. The word in Washington was that, buoyed by recent developments and the hopes of an improving American economy, he was going to announce his intention to run again. I wrote a cover piece for our UK edition about it last week.

Now, suddenly, he’s fumbling awkward replies about a possible scandal — one that is particularly embarrassing for Biden given the piety with which his party lectured Donald Trump about the sanctity of state secrecy.

The parallels between the “Trump hoarding files” story and the “Biden hoarding files” story could break both ways, too. On the one hand, Biden’s defenders will say his sloppiness was nothing, in scale and intent, compared to Trump’s flagrant flouting of the rules about classified material, and they may well be right.

On the other hand, the comparison could end up offering Biden a neat way of stepping down with his pride intact. “Unlike my predecessor I take national security very seriously,” he could say, or words to that effect. “If I have been found to have failed in my duties in any respect…” You get the picture.

The media might then spend a few news cycles describing him as an honorable man who fell on his sword, the political disaster that is Kamala Harris would fill the breach, and the contest for 2024 would be thrown open again. That’s all highly speculative, of course. But then we live in a time when Joe Biden is president and very strange things are happening in the heart of American power.

This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.