If anyone gets a thank you note from President Biden for helping him get out of trouble these past few days, it should probably be former President Donald J. Trump.
Just when Mr. Biden was inundated with unwelcome questions about his age, his predecessor and challenger stepped in, saving him with an ill-timed rant promising to “encourage” Russia to attack NATO allies that aren’t spending enough for their soldiers.
Mr. Trump’s stun this weekend not only distracted attention from the president’s memory problems, as detailed in a special counsel report, but also provided a convenient way for Mr. Biden’s defenders to rephrase the question: yes, they could now say, the incumbent may be an old man who sometimes forgets things, but his challenger is both aging and dangerously reckless.
It was not the first time, and likely will not be the last, that Mr. Trump stepped in when an opponent was in trouble to provide an escape route with his own inconsiderate howler. Mr. Trump’s lifelong appetite for attention has often clashed with his obvious self-interest. For Mr. Biden, that could be the key to this year’s campaign, banking on his opponent’s inability to remain silent in critical moments and hoping he will continue to remind voters why they rejected him in 2020.
“They say the enemy of your enemy is your friend,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who lost the party’s nomination this year. there for the benefit of Mr. Trump. “Since Trump is his worst enemy, he is arguably Biden’s best friend.”
This is not to say that age is no longer a political handicap for Mr. Biden, who, at 81, is already the oldest president in American history and would be 86 by the end of a second mandate. With Mr. Trump close behind at 77, the special prosecutor’s characterization of the president as an “older, well-meaning man with a poor memory” has proven searing and damaging.
A new poll from ABC News and Ipsos released Sunday finds that 86% of Americans think Mr. Biden is too old to serve another term as president, while 62% consider Mr. Trump too old.
But in Washington, the traditional political strategy when facing criticism is to change the subject as quickly as possible. Mr. Biden’s team has decided to ensure that the real problem is not its own capacity but the conduct of the special counsel, Robert K. Hur, just as past presidents like Mr. Trump and Bill Clinton have sought. to divert attention from the allegations against them to the prosecutors who investigated them.
White House surrogates and friends took to the airwaves in the days that followed to attack Mr. Hur for citing the president’s inability to remember key dates, including the year his son Beau died . In a fundraising appeal, Jill Biden, the first lady, denounced Mr. Hur’s “inaccurate and personal political attacks on Joe” and then asked his supporters for money. This response may not win over voters already opposed to Mr. Biden, but it gives Democrats something else to talk about.
Mr. Trump played fully into the Biden camp’s strategy at a rally in South Carolina on Saturday, lambasting “delinquent” NATO members and declaring that not only would he not come to their defense if they were attacked by the Russians, but that he would also encourage the Russians. “do what they want” against such allies.
“Donald Trump can’t help it,” said Rodell Molineau, a Democratic strategist and partner at ROKK Solutions. “He will always try to focus on himself, even if it is not to his advantage to do so. I expect many more moments of relaxation from Trump before this election is over.”
Nikki Haley, a former U.N. ambassador and governor of South Carolina who is still trying to wrest the Republican nomination from leader Mr. Trump, used that penchant to bolster her argument that the party should not make him confidence to lead it. victory this fall.
“That’s what you’re going to get, it’s unbalanced chaos,” Ms. Haley said on Fox News. “And that just makes Joe Biden look sane,” she added. When Donald Trump makes Joe Biden look sane, that’s more the reason why Donald Trump can’t defeat Joe Biden. They take everything he says and will use it against him. »
Mr. Biden’s camp has certainly sought to do just that. The White House issued a statement saying that “encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unbalanced.” In a separate statement released by his campaign, Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump’s comments were “predictable coming from a man who promises to rule as a dictator like the ones he praises from day one if he returns to the Oval Office.” On social media, he called Mr. Trump one of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s leaders. “useful lackeys”.
Robert Gibbs, President Barack Obama’s former White House press secretary, said the latest episode proved Mr. Trump was incapable of heeding an old political adage: “If your opponent is having a bad day, get out of the way.” you simply and let yourself go. it happens.
For Mr. Biden, he said, such unexpected opportunities could prove decisive. “How well the president and his team navigate these moments will perhaps be one of the biggest determining factors in who wins this race.”