Could Biden Take a Dive Thursday?

 

Tomorrow evening, Republican presumptive nominee and former President Donald Trump will face off against Democrat presumptive nominee and current President Joe Biden in a televised debate hosted by CNN, notably moderated by two individuals known for distinctly immoderate political positions.   The debate is widely considered as potentially decisive in shaping voter decisions just ahead of the party conventions.   It occurs to me that among the possible plans, would be one where Biden has an on-air medical event.  Here is why I think that could happen:

Biden has trailed Trump all year long in the polls, and it gets worse when you look at the battleground states.   So, for all the talk that the race is too close to call, Trump is clearly in the lead and nothing Biden has done up to now has changed that fact.    Team Biden clearly hopes to provoke Trump into the angry behavior he showed in the first debate in 2020, while presenting Biden as informed, calm and in control.  The problems with that plan include Trump not falling into that predictable trap, and the fact that Joe Biden has struggled to appear focused and clear-headed for long periods for the better part of two years.   Democrats certainly ought to know that this option is not a very likely one.

Option two for Democrats is an effective draw – either both Biden and Trump act like fools and voters are disgusted by them, or Biden does a passable job while Trump maintains his dignity, which would gain support for both men but would not help Biden pass Trump in support, as his record in office is still horrendous and the voters know it very well.

Options three and four are degrees of nightmares for Democrats.   In the third case, Trump stays on issues while Biden fades and starts to repeat some of the confused mumbling we have seen from him this year, this time with no chance for his supporters to claim it was taken out of context.  Or worst of all, Biden slides into an outright rant of insults and delusion while Trump lets him destroy his image in front of the nation.

The odds are 3-1 in that description against Biden coming out well, and frankly if Trump could keep his mouth shut while being ambushed in court as he has for months now, he certainly can control his temper for 90 minutes on TV, while Biden … simply has not demonstrated the capacity to stay on message for the length of a press conference, at least since his SOTU address, which had very different conditions than Biden will see tomorrow.

The Democrats certainly have to be aware that this could all spin out of control very quickly tomorrow, and that brings me to what they would have to have planned for that eventuality.

Historically, replacing a major party nominee late in the campaign, and let’s be clear that the Primaries were over long ago, so we are well into the General Campaign, bodes poorly for a party.   LBJ was forced to pull out of the race in the spring of 1968, and the Democrats never looked unified the rest of that year.  This point is also probably one reason why the GOP did not replace President Ford with Ronald Reagan in 1976 – they certainly understood that Reagan was much stronger than Ford at that point, except that replacing the presumptive nominee at that point would throw their campaign into chaos.   But Biden’s increasing instability may decide the matter for Democrats, and I suspect there may be a point where handlers decide to abandon him … in which case they may decide Biden would have a medical episode of some kind.

This would allow the DNC to pick the nominee, while selling Biden as a sympathetic image to voters.   Going back to Johnson, he certainly played JFK’s death to his advantage, as that thoroughly unlikeable man rode the nation’s grief over Kennedy to a curb-stomping win in 1964.  While no one seriously imagines Joe Biden could be compared to John Kennedy, the playbook is already written for that eventuality, and I am sure the Democrats are ready to call the play if Joe gets into real trouble tomorrow.

 

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