Joe Biden’s rough stretch continues as his debate with Donald Trump is on the horizon

6 min read

A common refrain in politics is that two weeks is a lifetime, meaning big changes can happen quickly.

Joe Biden better hope they do.

As he prepares for his debate with Donald Trump next week, the president is mired in a losing streak.

He has experienced rough weeks throughout his troubled term, but last week was one of the worst.

Amid rock-bottom approval numbers, Biden suffered a major blow with son Hunter Biden’s conviction on three federal gun felonies in a case brought by the president’s Department of Justice.

Still looming is a September trial on charges Hunter committed federal tax fraud and evasion.

Burdened by what must have been a mix of fury and grief, the president nonetheless had to board Air Force One for the G-7 meeting in Italy.

It was his second trip to Europe in 10 days and the wear and tear on the 81-year old president was obvious.

Without First Lady Jill Biden by his side to direct him, he looked more confused than usual and at one point had to be herded back to the group by Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, whom Biden weirdly saluted when they met.

Coming just after the White House Juneteenth celebration, where Biden’s hands and body stood frozen as people around him clapped and swayed to music, the behavior stoked concern among his peers.

G-7 insiders talked of him “losing focus” during discussions, with one saying Biden’s condition is “the worst he has ever been,” according to media reports.

‘Sleep well, big guy?’

Another unidentified attendee said Biden’s missteps were “embarrassing.”

Then there was the faux pas of French President Emmanuel Macron, who approached Biden on the morning of Day 2 and asked, “Sleep well, big guy?”  Oops.

It must have been lost in translation to Macron that “big guy” was Biden’s nickname in his family’s influence-peddling scheme.

Finally, the president had a public dust-up with core supporters — the American media.

When he scolded a reporter for asking a question that veered off topic, the White House Correspondents Association issued a sharp statement declaring that “there are no preconditions regarding question topics” and took a slap at the president for not holding more news conferences.

The chain of events is not the run-up Biden wanted for the June 27 debate with Trump, an early showdown that Biden demanded.

It was a bold bet to try to energize a demoralized party and head off Trump’s momentum before the conventions, but the debate now looms as a crucial test of Biden’s mental and physical fitness.

Television and digital audiences will be enormous, but Biden faces an uphill battle to persuade even half the nation he’s ready for four more years.

An astounding 86% of voters think he’s too old for a second term, according to an ABC/Ipsos survey.

A New York Times poll found that 61% of those who voted for him in 2020 think Biden is “just too old” to be an effective president.

That would seem to be more than trouble enough, yet the president is also dogged by major policy failures.

The open southern border is widely seen as a calamity that will take years to resolve.

The economy, including inflation, also gets a thumbs-down from most Americans, and there is wide belief that Biden’s weak leadership is provoking global turmoil.

The White House’s obsession with imposing coercive cultural and environmental policies also work in Trump’s favor.

Swing state slivers

Although Trump has managed to put some formerly blue states in play, especially Nevada, the overall race remains razor-close, with his small leads in the swing states falling within the margin of error.

The upshot is that the debate could be pivotal.

In a recent interview, Trump made it clear he is not counting on Biden being a mumbling, stumbling wreck at their Atlanta face-off.

“They’ll juice him up,” he told me, speaking of the president’s handlers.

“He’ll be fine. Whatever they gave him for the State of the Union, they’ll do it again.”

He might be right, and at any rate it’s smart not to count on Biden being at his worst.

For one thing, the two CNN moderators, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, have relentlessly trashed Trump for eight years and it’s unlikely they even remember how to be fair.

Watch for their attempts to protect Biden by quickly moving to another topic when he stumbles.

Citing the clock is a trick left-leaning moderators often use to rescue Dem candidates from a jam.

When he’s on offense, the president will repeatedly turn to the buzz-words that resonate with the Dems’ base: Jan. 6, convicted felon and democracy, democracy, democracy.

Trump will have to answer each charge repeatedly, and his answers are likely to include accusations that Biden is orchestrating the string of prosecutions and civil cases against him.

At the same time, Trump can made debate history by honestly saying that indictments by Democrat prosecutors helped make him the nominee.

More important than any choice of words, however, will be Trump’s demeanor.

The best antidote to the left’s caricatures of him as a fascist and a buffoon are calm, coherent and factual responses.

Bottom line: He needs to act and sound more like a president than a challenger.

On-stage strategizing

In that sense, Hunter Biden’s conviction poses a tricky terrain.

Given that Joe Biden lied in their second debate four years ago about the son’s laptop being “a Russian plant,” Trump would be foolish not to cite the fact that the laptop has been authenticated by the Justice Department.

But if he goes too far and gloats over the president’s son being convicted, Biden could win the sympathy vote.

In fact, Trump doesn’t need to take many risks.

Because he holds the momentum, he can win the debate simply by not losing it.

That is his biggest advantage.

Biden, meanwhile, has to go for a knockout.

Doubts about his fitness and policies give him little room to maneuver, which is why I believe his attacks will aim to reinforce doubts about Trump’s character.

The risk for Biden is that he gets too hot and begins shouting like an old man telling children to get off his lawn.

Abortion is probably the only policy opening Biden can exploit.

The overturning of Roe is still working its way through the political bloodstream at the state level, but Dems have scored by emphasizing that a constitutional right has been taken away.

As a result, even red states have preserved some rights to abortion.

Trump has tried to chart an acceptable compromise by insisting that restrictions always include exceptions for the health and safety of the mother, but he and the GOP are playing defense with nuanced arguments.

That’s not a good place to be in politics, especially in debates.

Look for Biden and his CNN helpers to repeatedly hammer home the point.

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