- Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report says some unflattering things about Biden’s memory.
- But it’s unlikely to significantly impact the 2024 race: voters already know this about him.
- Voters will have a binary choice to make, and plenty of them are still ready to reject Trump again.
“A sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”
This is perhaps the most-cited line from Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report on President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents, which recommended no charges against the president.
That line — along with the report’s revelation that Biden apparently forgot the dates of his own vice presidency as well as when his son Beau died — is embarrassing. It’s likely to be cited by Republicans as evidence that Biden’s not up to the job, and by long-shot primary challenger Rep. Dean Phillips that voters should make him the Democratic nominee instead.
But here’s the thing: Are you really surprised by this?
Polling has consistently shown that everyone is concerned about the 81-year-old Biden’s age, and what effects that may have on his mental acuity. According to a recent NBC News poll, 76% of voters, including half of Democrats, said so.
Yet that same poll shows former President Donald Trump leading Biden by 47% to 42% — not a good result for Biden, but not unsalvageable. Trump has a narrow lead on Biden according to polling averages, but the general election has yet to fully begin.
The point: Biden’s age is essentially baked-in to voters’ expectations, even for those supporting him, in much the same way that Trump’s myriad scandals are baked-in for GOP voters.
What’s different about the Hur revelations is that they’re spelled out in an official Department of Justice report, giving the obvious memory lapses a patina of officiality that Biden’s numerous one-camera slip-ups lack.
Yet it’s worth noting those as well.
Biden confused not one, but two European heads of state for their dead predecessors in the last week. And last summer, Biden confused Ukraine for Iraq twice in 24 hours. Since the beginning of Biden’s presidency, he’s issued occasionally gaffes, tripped on stairs, or had other incidents that highlight the fact that he’s old.
In the coming days, Democratic lawmakers and other elected officials are likely to squirm a little bit when asked about this, but ultimately, they’ll likely fall in line.
The party as a whole, save for Phillips and his minority of supporters, has felt confident in their ability to win over the public not by insisting upon Biden’s sharp wit, but by the policies that Democratic trifectas were able to deliver in 2021 and 2022.
And as the country stares down another Biden vs. Trump rematch, Democrats will be in a strong position to make a simple case: You may not love Biden, but the alternative is a man who tried to overturn an election, and whose rhetoric has only grown more authoritarian in recent years.
Take, for example, the reaction of George Conway, the prominent Never-Trump Republican lawyer.
“It’s not great; it’s not helpful; and under ordinary circumstances it would be devastating,” Conway wrote of the Hur report on X. “But he’s running against a criminal psychopath.”