Morning Joe: It's time for Dems to have a talk about Biden

Morning Joe: It's time for Dems to have a talk about Biden

If Joe Biden remains the Democrats’ best hope for winning the White House next year, Joe Scarborough warns, they may be in serious trouble. It’s becoming more and more obvious that the former VP has trouble completing his sentences and his thoughts when engaged live — and when Biden manages to do that, he often mangles them anyway.

“I think Biden has the best chance of beating Trump. I do,” Scarborough declared earlier on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “like if he’s on his game. But I just wonder, is the media grading Joe Biden on a scale?”

Answer: you bet. Via Grabien:

SCARBOROUGH: Of course, Willie, he’s struggling there. He’s closing his eyes. He knows he’s having trouble finding words. The sentences are jumbled, the words are jumbled. I just worried when I read — you see this and, listen, I’m just saying, I think Biden has the best chance of beating Trump. I do. Like if he’s on his game. But I just wonder, is the media grading Joe Biden on a scale? Are we afraid to say that a lot of his sentences don’t make sense? That he’s having trouble completing thoughts? That when he’s asked in a previous debate about Afghanistan an issue he knows more about than anybody, not only on that stage, but in Washington, D.C., he ends up stumbling through an answer on Iraq. Are we grading him on a scale the same way people have always graded Donald Trump on a scale in these debates?

GEIST: Yes. The answer is yes.

When co-host Mika Brzezinski argued that the presidency requires more than just extemporaneously putting together a coherent string of words, Scarborough shot back that it’s a minimum prerequisite for being an effective candidate:

Still, co-host Mika Brzezinski came to Biden’s defense, arguing voters care about more than just these debate soundbites.

“You’ve got to be able to complete a sentence if you’re running for president,” Scarborough shot back.

Where does one start with Biden’s performance last night? One could start at the start, as Biden seemed to lose his way on the very first question he attempted to answer, but that can just be attributed to momentary jitters. The rest is tough to explain away easily. For instance, Biden claimed to have the support of the Senate’s only African-American member (Caroline Mosley Braun), while forgetting that Kamala Harris was on the same stage as him:

Even on a subject Biden knows well, he managed to talk his way into embarrassment. Biden was one of the original sponsors of the Violence Against Women Act and has repeatedly addressed it in his speeches for years, if not decades. So how does one explain this strange manner of framing what comes next?

“No, I really mean it,” Biden says, not grasping why the audience was laughing at him. That’s a special kind of cluelessness.

Scarborough’s correct that the media has been judging Biden on a Trump curve of sorts, assuming that Trump is automatically worse than anything else and glossing over Biden’s increasing incoherence as a result. That may be coming to an end, though, as a number of outlets finally began to notice that the emperor is not wearing any clothes. The Hill concluded that Biden “stumbled” his way through the debate, and that “Democrats are bound to question how strongly he would perform in a showdown with President Trump.” The New Yorker observed that the primaries are supposed to “weed out” precisely this kind of candidate weakness.

More ominously, former Barack Obama political adviser David Axelrod probably put it best while trying to be kind:

During a panel discussion on CNN, David Axelrod, who was former President Barack Obama’s chief strategist during his campaign, commented that he thought Biden still “has a play here,” despite failing to impress in any of the Democratic debates thus far.

“Biden, I wouldn’t say he was a house of fire in any of the debates that we’ve been to. And yet he comes… kind of bumps along, kind of Mr. Magooing his way through this. You keep worrying he’s going to hit a wall, but he’s moving forward,” Axelrod said on Wednesday night, following the debate in Georgia.

After watching the debate myself, I wrote at The Week that the only potential game changer from the event might be a forced reconsideration of Biden’s sustainability:

The one potential exception to this unhelpful parade of sameness might have been Biden. If Democratic primary voters wondered about Biden’s stamina and coherence, this debate will have done nothing to reassure them of either. He stumbled during a response to a fairly mundane question and struggled at times to maintain coherence.

When asked how to deal with violence against women, Biden started off by saying, “No one has a right to raise a hand to a woman in anger,” and then oddly added, “other than in self-defense, and that rarely ever occurs.” That’s not quite accurate, but Biden insisted that “we have to change the culture, period,” and then exhorted everyone to “keep punching at it and punching at it” — apparently oblivious to the irony, although the audience certainly didn’t miss it.

Late in the debate, Biden got caught out by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) for arguing that marijuana might be a gateway drug that requires more study before it is legalized. After Booker said Biden “must have been high” to make that argument, Biden then declared that pot should be decriminalized and all marijuana convictions reversed and expunged. In a cycle where populist voters put a premium on authenticity and clarity, Biden may have undermined his claims to both.

I do wish I’d thought of the “Mr. Magoo” line before Axelrod, but I’ll console myself with this mash-up of Biden’s attempt to channel his inner Jim Backus. The conservative political action group America Rising put together a brief compendium of Biden’s night. This might be too kind — it could have been much longer and still have remained in the same vein.

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