Governor Bob Ehrlich Commentaries

The Trick to Trump Winning the Next Debate Is To Make Biden Debate Biden

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s ability to meet the low bar of mental fitness and stamina, which he demonstrated during Tuesday’s debate, does not extinguish the issue.

Indeed, in more normal times, the intellectual capacity and stamina of a major-party nominee would be an all-important, front-burner issue. But not so much during the historically weird election year of 2020.

For my taste, too many conservative pundits on TV engage in gratuitously mean-spirited reviews, employing selective videos of the former vice president’s more infamous memory lapses.

Note these are not the type of faux pas everyone — including elected officials — typically commit. Rather, the scenes are uncomfortable, making me hearken back to the clearly limited Ronald Reagan at the end of his second term.

Still, outside the base, these videos probably do little to advance the Trump cause. And they in fact may add to “mean-spiritedness” as a reason to reject the president.

On the flip side, too many Democrats (and their media enablers) pretend they do not see what is obvious to everyone. One byproduct is loss of credibility — what used to be the kiss of death for media types who wish to be taken seriously.

The few who have bothered to acknowledge the issue tend to dismiss it quickly, as though questioning a nominee’s mental capacities is an exempt line of criticism. To wit: The media’s uncritical acceptance of Dr. Jill Biden’s refusal to “go there” — an effective response in the face of an acquiescent media.

All of which gets us back to the issue of how we arrived here in the first place.

Hard to believe now, but not so long ago Joe Biden was dead in the water.

An uninspiring campaign, unenthusiastic supporters and lack of funds made for many premature political obituaries until the African-American vote in South Carolina’s primary saved him. It was the first state primary he had ever won in three national campaigns, and it could not have come at a more opportune time.

But it was not only the African-American vote to the rescue. It was also a Democratic establishment correctly scared to death about what a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren nomination would do to their party’s chances in November, not to mention their party in general.

And so all those who had passed on drinking the progressive Kool-Aid boarded the Biden train. Everybody knew this was a long way from Obama-era enthusiasm, but at least a possible Biden loss would not likely take the House down with him.

Back to the present. Biden’s staff has gone to great pains to limit their presidential nominee’s campaign. They fully understand their candidate’s limitations and have (so far, at least) been successful at their low-key strategy.

Of course, a virtual campaign is more plausible in the time of the coronavirus. But even so, Mr. Biden engages in few public appearances and seldom does he leave the confines of his Wilmington, Delaware, basement. Even when he does so, his “crowds” are socially distanced and almost creepily limited to single digits.

As for real unscripted press availabilities, forget it. The few questions Mr. Biden takes are carefully chosen and apparently embarrassingly scripted down to the answers on his teleprompter.

Still, the campaign (and how he would govern if elected) is but a sideshow for the Biden staff. Their wish is to make the election all about the evil occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Republicans are confronted with a far different challenge, one that played out during the first presidential debate. Their candidate is hyperaggressive: He loves to mix it up, to counterpunch against one and all who dare attack him. He prides himself on hitting hard, a modus operandi that has largely worked in both his business and political careers.

But how to deal with Joe Biden in his present state of platitudinal diffidence? That is a tough one, and a problem that the president’s staff must remedy prior to the next presidential debate.

I hope the president will tap the brakes. After all, he possesses a stalwart record of accomplishment, foreign and domestic, that should be front and center in a re-election campaign. And, if required, he can still be the counter-puncher in response to Biden’s more ludicrous attacks (e.g., every life lost to coronavirus is Trump’s fault).

Independent and moderate voters do not appreciate over-the-top aggressiveness. The president should accordingly tow a delicate line, perhaps exploring the increasingly uncomfortable relationship between the Democrats’ traditional liberal establishment and its suddenly ascendant progressive wing.

In other words, make Biden debate Biden. Now that’s a winning strategy.

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