Search the KHIT Blog

Friday, June 28, 2024

The POTUS fallacy of sunk costs?

130 129 128 days now to the November 5th elections.
Joe Biden didn’t just have a bad night. American democracy is now more in danger than ever.

I have been harshly critical of calls for President Joe Biden to step down. I have argued with people across the political spectrum about this, including friends and colleagues. I think Biden has had a successful first term and that his age has been no barrier to his effectiveness as a leader. I still believe that. And if the choice this fall is between Biden and a man who I believe is a mentally unstable menace to American democracy, I won’t think twice about my vote.

But Donald Trump must be defeated, and after last night’s debate, I am no longer sure that Biden is electable. Politics can be a miserable business that too often turns on perceptions, and for the president, the debate was a full-blown, Hindenburg-level disaster. Biden’s performance was unnervingly bad, and it has led to a chorus of calls, including in this magazine, for Biden to step down…

I know that, for Biden loyalists, the gathering consensus around last night’s debate must feel like a betrayal: Friends and coalition partners now seem to be lining up with knives behind the back of the man who saved America from Trump in 2020. Political loyalty, although often useful and sometimes admirable, should not override practicality. Blind support of one man, after all, is the hallmark of Trump’s cult; the prodemocracy coalition is larger, and should be more resilient, than any single person in it.

Before we think about next steps, it’s important not to wave away what happened last night, and it’s especially important not to engage in random blame-storming. Biden had one job—don’t look old and befuddled—and he failed. Biden supporters are raging away on social media about how the CNN moderators should have intervened with more fact-checking (read: debating Trump themselves and saving Biden), but Jake Tapper and Dana Bash did a reasonable job of keeping the debate moving and giving Biden multiple chances to unload any number of haymakers on Trump had he wanted to do so.

Biden, however, was simply not present. Opportunity after opportunity to call out Trump passed him by as he garbled a basket of statistics and talking points. The president’s staff clearly overprepared their candidate, stuffing his head with factoids about Pell Grants and climate targets and tax rates and other things that are completely irrelevant in a debate with a deranged bully. If this was the work of the White House prep team, then they are guilty of egregious political malpractice—but in the end, the candidate is always responsible for what happens in the campaign.

I now accept that the Biden we saw last night is as good as we’ll get in the election, and that Americans—unfortunately—are likely to decide that an entertaining autocrat is less of a risk than a decent old man…

Today, in North Carolina, Biden was full of energy, self-deprecating humor, and fury. I suspect that this is Biden in a kind of late–Ronald Reagan phase, in which he is able to give a barn burner of a speech but not capable of heavier lifting; even during the North Carolina event, he looked vacant and slack-jawed while he watched others speak. He was animated at the podium—but that’s likely not going to be enough to win an election in which so many undecided voters think Biden is too old to be president…

Time is running out. The operatives out there trying to soothe nerves by invoking Reagan’s first disastrous debate in 1984 forget that Reagan was ahead in the polls at the time, with plenty of electoral cushion under him. Biden has no such margin. My friend Greg Sargent at The New Republic has argued that Joe and Jill Biden need to assure America that last night was the exception, not the rule. But I suspect that Biden has, at most, about a week to either make up his mind not to run or reassure America that he can take on Donald Trump and win. At this point, it’s very hard to imagine that such reassurance is possible…
My new hashtag coinage: #DonaldJBumpStock
Also, apropos terminology: "Gish Gallop."
Totally worthy your time and close attention.

No comments:

Post a Comment