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‘Lightbulb…on a dimmer’ New York Times editorials question Biden's ability to serve

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A series of New York Times editorials over the weekend offered sometimes scathing assessments of President Biden’s ability to hold office due to his age and mental acuity in the days after a special counsel’s report called into question the president’s well-being during an investigation into his handling of classified documents.

At least one of several columns published on the often left-leaning editorial pages of the Times suggested Biden could step aside from the 2024 race at the Democratic National Convention, with Times columnist Ross Douthat offering this stark take on Biden: “The impression the president gives in public is not senility so much as extreme frailty, like a lightbulb that still burns so long as you keep it on a dimmer.”

The New York Times editorial board meanwhile ran a piece on Friday, titled “The Challenges of an Aging President” where it pointed out that Biden’s reelection campaign, at his age, was taking Americans into “unchartered territories.”

That editorial also criticized Biden’s performance at a last-minute press conference Thursday evening, in which he lashed out at the special counsel’s report and at reporters for asking about voters’ concerns with his age. Then, the president made his third gaffe of the week, mixing up the country of Egypt with Mexico.

“Mr. Biden’s performance at his news conference on Thursday night was intended to assure the public that his memory is fine and argue that Mr. Hur was out of line; instead, the president raised more questions about his cognitive sharpness and temperament, as he delivered emotional and snappish retorts in a moment when people were looking for steady, even and capable responses to fair questions about his fitness,” the Times wrote.

“His assurances, in other words, didn’t work. He must do better — the stakes in this presidential election are too high for Mr. Biden to hope that he can skate through a campaign with the help of teleprompters and aides and somehow defeat as manifestly unfit an opponent as Donald Trump, who has a very real chance of retaking the White House,” the editorial continued.

At 81, Biden is the oldest sitting U.S. president and if reelected in November, he would be 86 at the end of his second term. Concerns over Biden’s age and ability to serve were once again hoisted into the spotlight after special counsel Robert Hur offered a harsh assessment of Biden’s memory and recall in his report.

The report cleared Biden of wrongdoing and sought no criminal charges on the matter but that was largely overshadowed by the picture Hur painted of Biden, in which he described him as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” 

“Joe Biden should not be running for re-election,” Douthat wrote in his Feb. 10 piece, titled, “The Question Is Not If Biden Should Step Aside. It’s How.” “That much was obvious well before the special prosecutor’s comments on the president’s memory lapses inspired a burst of age-related angst.”

Douthat noted that while “things have worked out OK” for the Biden administration, he questioned if this sort of political survival can continue for nearly five more years. 

Douthat suggested Biden’s best approach to ending his reelection bid before the November election would be to do so during the Democratic National Convention in August. He argued Biden should decline to issue an endorsement and invite convention delegates to instead choose his replacement to avoid the “dilemma” of endorsing Vice President Harris, who he said is “even more likely” to lose to former President Trump. 

Biden furiously defended his memory and age at last Thursday’s press conference and said his “memory’s fine.” Asked if he should be running for a second term, Biden said, “I’m the most qualified person in this country to be president of the United States and finish the job I started.”

Trump holds a comfortable 60-point lead over his main GOP challenger — former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley — according to a national polling index from The Hill and Decision Desk HQ. In a hypothetical match-up, Trump and Biden are neck-and-neck, though recent polling shows the former president with a slight 2.2 point lead over the incumbent. 

The Times editorial board argued Biden could top Trump more forcefully if he campaigned with voters in more “unrehearsed” interactions,” including town hall meetings and more regular news conferences.

“But the combination of Mr. Biden’s age and his absence from the public stage has eroded the public’s confidence. He looks as if he is hiding, or worse, being hidden,” the board wrote, adding later the details of Hur’s report will only boost these concerns. 

Biden advisors view these op-eds centered on the president’s age as unfair media practices compared to Trump, who is 77 and has also  committed major gaffes in recent months, such as when he mixed up Haley with former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Trump’s gaffes were also widely covered by news reports.

The Biden advisors also point to a series of testimonies about the president’s fitness from various domestic and foreign officials.

In a separate op-ed from columnist Maureen Dowd, she urged Biden’s team to stop trying to be “stealth” about his health and “moments of faltering.” She also criticized Biden’s Thursday press conference, writing “Petulance is never a good look. Biden should have taken a breath.”

She called Hur’s report a “fire alarm blaring” while Biden “refuse[s] to take the one-term win, bow out and make room for new blood.” 

In another op-ed, from columnist Doug Sosnik —who served as senior advisor to former President Clinton from 1994 to 2000 — he argued Biden is relying on  Trump’s unpopularity, comparing the rematch to the 1980 race between former Presidents Carter and Reagan, in which Reagan overcame the doubts over his age and temperament as concerns rose about a second Carter term.

Source: The Hill

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