President Trump is convinced that Joseph R. Biden has an Achilles heel and it’s none other than Joe Biden himself.
The nation’s 45th president and his reelection team believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant when it comes to denting Mr. Biden’s image among voters on the fence.
The bet is simple: The more attention Mr. Biden gets from the news media, the better the chances the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee will shoot himself in the foot with goofs, gaffes and brainfarts that could give voters pause.
“It is a recognition of the fact that Biden has somewhat benefited by being able to hole up in his basement and very much control how and when he interacts with the media,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “Right now he is just about as old as Ronald Reagan was when [Reagan] left office after his second term and I think everyone knows [Biden’s] mental acuity is not what it used to be.
“The other is the belief is that mentally he is not 100% there and that another impact of greater media attention would be to reveal memory lapses, the mincing up of words, and any sign that could suggest that he may not be fit to serve as president.”
Last week the Trump campaign called on the television news networks to carry Mr. Biden’s campaign events in their entirety after the 77-year-old stumbled through parts of a roundtable event in Philadelphia.
“The failure to expose the American people to these rambling displays of incoherence, ineptitude, and forgetfulness is depriving voters of a clear picture of Biden’s inability to execute the duties of the office he seeks,” said Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale. “Stop protecting Biden. Air the events.”
Mr. Biden has started revving his campaign back up after the coronavirus forced him off the campaign trail for most of the last three months.
Over that time, his campaign relied on virtual events and fundraisers from his basement that allowed the candidate to dictate when he engaged with the news media.
It also helped keep the focus squarely on Mr. Trump as the nation reeled from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, and the racial unrest triggered by the death of George Floyd.
Since March, Mr. Biden has extended his lead over the president — who turned 75 himself on Sunday — in national polls and in most battleground states.
Consequently, some Democrats say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“People say all the time, ‘Oh, we got to get the vice president out of the basement,’” former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe told Democrats in a “monthly breakfast” event last week, according to Fox News. “He’s fine in the basement. Two people see him a day: his two body people. That’s it. Let Trump keep doing what Trump’s doing.”
The concerns over Mr. Biden’s mental agility have lurked just beneath the surface since he entered the Democratic primary race a year ago.
David McCuan, professor of political science at Sonoma State University, said Democrats have “long known that if you let Joe out long enough to do retail politics, he’ll disappoint many and sabotage his own best work.
“If Trump is sometimes his own worst enemy, then Biden is that political twin — going too far and losing a bit of zip off the campaign fastball,” Mr. McCuan said. “As the retail politicking of the presidential campaign returns, Trump and his team know that Biden often has two left feet out on the trail.”
The former vice president can appear frail and tired on the stump, and he was clearly outmatched on Democratic debate stages earlier this year, even though his rivals for the nomination mostly tip-toed around his age.
The big exception came when former Housing Secretary Julian Castro took a jab.
“Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” Mr. Castro asked Mr. Biden in a remark that seemed to many to call into question the 77-year-old’s mental acuity. “Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?”
Democrats say Mr. Biden could address that lingering skepticism with strong debate showings this fall against Mr. Trump.
“I’m gonna need three solid hours from Joe Biden in the fall during these debates,” Democratic strategist Bakari Sellers said last week on “The Bill Simmons” podcast. “So, I don’t know what he’s going to need — get that man some of that ginkgo biloba, or whatever they take, give him some ginseng. I am going to need three hours, one hour in each debate, from him to go out and be as sharp as possible because at the end of the day it is going to be really, really, difficult to defeat Donald Trump, and everything has to go right.”