That was the question on Joe Biden’s mind (and only Joe Biden’s mind) on Wednesday, as the president searched in vain for Rep. Jackie Walorski at a White House conference on hunger and nutrition. Unfortunately, the Indiana lawmaker died in a car crash last month. So no, Jackie Walorski was not going to be walking through that door (though if she did, that would truly be newsworthy).
Coming on the heels of a speech at the Global Fund Conference in which Biden appeared to look “dazed and confused” afterward, this latest boner has reignited speculation about the possibility that Biden, 79, might be suffering from some form of cognitive decline.
But at the very least, it’s clear that he has lost a step. The real question may be “Where’s Biden?”
Of course, there are other plausible (and slightly less worrisome) excuses that might explain Biden’s behavior.
After Rep. Walorski’s death, the White House put out a statement from Biden saying he was “shocked and saddened” by her death. But is it possible that Biden was never actually notified—that his staff simply put out the release without his knowledge? This seems unlikely, and a president who is that out-of-the-loop regarding the recent death of a congresswoman (whom he personally knew) that got a lot of media coverage would not be a great excuse.
Of course, we all commit brain farts. Presidents give countless speeches. They are on camera all the time. And there are 535 members of Congress to keep tabs on (not to mention all the other elected officials in America). And, oh yeah, he has a lot of other things to worry about (including Russia and China).
It’s also true that Biden has always had a penchant for making gaffes. The most similar example involved a 2008 campaign speech where Biden asked a paraplegic state senator in the audience to “stand up.”
The problem with the comparison is that if you watch the video from 2008, Biden quickly realizes his embarrassing mistake. Indeed, his quick-witted response—“stand up for Chuck!”—was, considering the circumstances, impressive.
The same could not be said for this most recent mistake. Biden seemed old and confused. Not only could this bad look have staying power, it’s coming at a bad time for the president and his party.
In recent months, Biden seemed to have turned a corner. After a rough year that started in the aftermath of his ill-fated 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal, Biden was starting to get his mojo back, as evidenced by his rising approval ratings, and midterm prognostications looking increasingly optimistic for Democrats.
And while the calls to replace Biden on the 2024 ticket never really subsided, this latest flub is sure to renew and accelerate the desperate search for a successor, once the midterms are over in six weeks.
Making matters worse, the gaslighting put forth by Biden’s White House press secretary only angered the press corps. As The New York Times put it, “Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, refused to acknowledge that Mr. Biden had misspoken or that he had forgotten that Ms. Walorski had died.”
It was an almost Sean Spicer-esque spin from a WH press secretary, which makes me wonder what kind of attention this would be receiving if Donald Trump had made a similar mistake (and if his team refused to accept it). It would likely be the West Point ramp controversy—on steroids.
But this is not a story about media bias or hypocrisy. Regardless of whether Biden is suffering from cognitive decline (that’s for the doctors to decide), it’s very clear that—putting it kindly—he is long past his prime.
We should at least be willing to honestly admit that. Moreover, we should be honest about the fact that this transcends Biden. America effectively has a gerontocracy right now.
Now, there’s a good (and very simple) reason why almost nobody outside of the Republican Party wants to probe too deeply here: Joe Biden is the only person standing between us and another four years of Donald Trump.
Seriously, Biden was probably the only Democrat who (a) could have won the Democratic nomination in 2020, and (b) could have defeated Donald Trump.
And in the intervening years, there is little reason to believe that—even with Biden’s obvious deficiencies—anyone else who is likely to run would stand a better chance in 2024.
This is not a criticism of Biden. Indeed, if you view Trump as an existential threat, then you owe Biden a debt of gratitude for spending his golden years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But the fact that—at this point—America is still turning its lonely eyes to Joe Biden to be our savior is an indictment on the Democratic Party and modern American politics, writ large.
Biden’s ostensible heir apparent, Vice President Kamala Harris, has not risen to the occasion. But pushing her aside in favor of someone like Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg would look like a slap in the face to a large portion of the Democratic Party’s base. So we are basically caught in this scary Catch-22.
It’s either the confused old guy or the dangerous old guy. Welcome to modern America.