- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 13, 2020

No sooner had Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden put the “gaffe machine” narrative to rest with a relatively flub-free debate than he revved it up again with one appearance in Ohio.

Mr. Biden said he was running for the Senate. He mixed up former Sens. Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy. He gave the wrong voter-registration website. He forgot the name of Sen. Mitt Romney, calling him “the senator who was a Mormon, the governor, OK?”

Every politician makes misstatements — even the unflappable President Obama once said he had been to 57 states — but Mr. Biden’s pattern of blunders has raised questions about whether the former vice president still has what it takes as he approaches his 78th birthday.

Former White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, who served from 2013 to 2018 in the Obama and Trump administrations, said bluntly Tuesday that Mr. Biden “is not up to the job.”

“I’ve watched Joe Biden on the campaign trail and I’m concerned that he does not have the mental capacity, the cognitive ability, to serve as our commander-in-chief. He routinely gets lost in the middle of a thought and can’t recalibrate,” Dr. Jackson said on a press call arranged by the Trump campaign.

Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates dismissed the claims, saying, “I refer you to the first debate.”

Dr. Jackson was careful to note that he never treated Mr. Biden and was “not remotely trying to diagnose him with anything. I’m saying it as a concerned citizen,” but the view that he may no longer command the facts like he once did is hardly an outlier.

Wilfred Reilly, associate professor of political science at Kentucky State University, said he tries to avoid “diagnosing people on the stump,” but that he also believes that Mr. Biden isn’t the same as he was in his Senate heyday.

“I will say, just as a citizen observer, it definitely looks like Joe Biden has lost a step with age,” said Mr. Reilly. “If you compare 1994 Joe Biden arguing for the crime bill with these power players like the Black Caucus or reporters from The New York Times — if you compare that figure to Joe Biden today, there’s definitely been some change, and it’s not in a positive direction.”

Mr. Biden’s stumbles during the presidential race are well-documented. He said 120 million Americans had died from the coronavirus in June — it was 120,000 — and then made the same mistake in September, saying 200 million had died.

Numbers in general are a problem. “COVID has taken this year, just since the outbreak, has taken more than 100 year,” Mr. Biden told a Pittsburgh crowd in September. “Look, the lives, it’s just, when you think about it, more lives this year than any other year for the past hundred years.”

He blanked in March on the Declaration of Independence, telling a Houston crowd, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: all men and women created by, go, you know the thing.”

Rick Manning, president of the free-market Americans for Limited Government, said nobody should expect Mr. Biden, who turns 78 on Nov. 20, to improve with age.

“This is as good as he gets,” said Mr. Manning, who worked for the George W. Bush administration. “If we were looking at somebody who was just occasionally forgetting something, which we all do, that would be one thing. But we’re looking at somebody who is a serial forgetter.”

As a result, he said, “I think it’s reasonable to ask whether you want somebody who is clearly in decline with their finger on the button.”

Mr. Biden’s other gaffe problem has less to do with memory lapses and more to do with a propensity to fall back on race and religion when describing people. His attempt Monday to describe Mr. Romney as a “Mormon” is one example.

His tendency to use racial stereotypes has also been on display in the campaign.

Last month, he sought to praise essential workers by stating: “They’re saying, ‘Geez, the reason I was able to stay sequestered in my home is because some Black woman was able to stack the grocery shelf.’”

In May, he landed in the hot seat by telling “The Breakfast Club” co-host Charlamagne tha God, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.”

Asked by CBS News reporter Errol Barnett if he had taken a cognitive test, Mr. Biden said he had not, and snapped, “That’s like saying, you, before you go on this program here, take a test where you’re taking cocaine or not? What do you think? Huh? Are you a junkie?”

Mr. Barnett, who is Black, was interviewing the former vice president in August for the National Association of Black Journalists.

“He’s not all there, and I wouldn’t say he’s at the top of his game, would you?” Mr. Trump told reporters later.

The same month, Mr. Biden sought in an NPR interview to contrast the Black and Hispanic communities.

“By the way, what you all know but most people don’t know, unlike the African American community with notable exceptions, the Latino community is an incredibly diverse community with incredibly different attitudes about different things,” Mr. Biden said.

During the Democratic primary last year, Mr. Biden said in Iowa that, “We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as White kids.”

Such comments go way back. Back in 2006, before Mr. Obama tapped him as his running mate, Mr. Biden said, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”

Mr. Biden or his staff has apologized for or explained the remarks, none of which has appeared to damage his standing with minority voters.

“There are many major, serious gaffes, from Biden saying things like, I think poor kids are just as smart as white kids, or, you’re not Black if you don’t vote for me, that would end the career of a mid-level Republican candidate,” Mr. Reilly said.

The comments are memorable, and yet little of it has stuck to Mr. Biden, whose camp has deflecting the issue in part by turning the discussion back to President Trump.

Jill Biden shut down a question last month in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. After he asked about Mr. Biden’s “occasional gaffe,” she responded, “Oh, you can’t even go there.”

“After Donald Trump, you cannot even say the word gaffe,” she said.

Mr. Trump has countered that Mr. Biden is held to a friendlier standard by the media. After Monday’s Biden gaffe-fest, the president tweeted, “If I did any of this, it would be disqualifying.”

He may be right. “There’s more than a bit of a double standard here,” said Mr. Reilly.

“But he [Biden] has got a good campaign team, and the media’s playing along because he’s not Trump,” Mr. Reilly continued. “I don’t know how much that’s actually going to hurt him.”

Indeed, the Biden team has proven adept at limiting the candidate’s exposure by calling a lid on campaigning early in the day, restricting access to press questions, and holding many events remotely, hence the nickname “Hidin’ Biden.”

So far it’s working. The RealClearPolitics polling average as of Tuesday showed Mr. Biden leading Mr. Trump by 10 percentage points.

Does the campaign need to address the gaffe issue? “The Biden campaign is addressing it. That’s why they’re hiding him,” Mr. Manning said. “They are dealing with it by isolating him.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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