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Mental Impairment Versus Mental Derangement
The choices the parties are hell-bent on giving us.
As I mentioned in last week’s “No BS Zone,” a recent NBC poll showed that 68% of Americans are majorly or moderately concerned that Joe Biden does not have “the necessary mental and physical health to be president.” That number has risen 17 points since the same question was asked by the same pollster just a month before the 2020 election.
That’s obviously not a direction you want to be going in if you’re already 80 years old, with an approval rating in the low forties (and an even less popular vice president), who’s trying to make the case that you should remain in office until you’re roughly ten years past the life expectancy of the average American. Perhaps more damning is that no one hearing that poll number — including your most fervent supporters — has any trouble believing it accurately represents public sentiment, being that your cognitive decline has been on full display over the past two and a half years. And that’s despite your handlers severely limiting your time in the public eye.
It makes very little sense for President Biden to even be entertaining a second term. He won in 2020 not because Americans believed he was a strong leader, or even because they felt he had the right policies, but because most were sick and tired of the toxicity and ineptitude of Donald Trump… especially after nine months of a global pandemic he was glaringly ill-equipped to deal with. Voters just wanted someone to put an end to the daily chaos — to turn down the volume, and return some normalcy, decency, and professionalism to the White House. They weren’t expecting a knight in shining armor. Just a placeholder.
If Biden could fill that transitional role for a few years, his presidency would be considered a successful one, and he could leave office and fade from the public scene with his head held high. Mission accomplished.
But that’s not exactly how things turned out. Biden has fallen well short of the low expectations America had for him. He decided early on that an unexpected Senate majority (compliments of his predecessor) gave him license to govern as a transformational president rather than a transitional one. Self-inflicted wounds and needless derision have hallmarked his time in office, eroding public confidence (even among his own party) and keeping numbers low. And every confused utterance and blank gaze from Biden, which are growing more frequent, only draws deeper concerns about his fitness for the job.
Yet, he remains the Democrats’ preordained nominee heading into 2024… not because there’s a compelling case that his party or his country needs him, but rather because he — a guy who a whopping two-thirds of the country doesn’t think is all there — wants a second term.
Plainly stated, this is madness. But here’s the kicker… That same poll has Biden beating the likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump, by four points. That’s despite significantly fewer people being concerned about Trump’s health, Biden’s approval ratings stuck in the low 40s, ongoing national problems with inflation and the border, and three-quarters of the country believing our nation is on the wrong track.
How does one square that circle?
Simply put, most Americans would rather have a mentally impaired president than a mentally deranged one. Everything else, including policies, is largely an afterthought.
Biden may not be firing on all cylinders, but no one believes for a minute that he’d do something like try to overturn U.S. democracy, or provoke a deadly insurrection, because his feelings got hurt. No one believes he would attack a political opponent’s family members, or purge members of his own party from office, because they chose to defend the Constitution over his personal pride. No one believes Biden would lavish praise on people who carried out violence in his name, or who called for his vice president to be hanged. I could go on, but I’m guessing you get my point.
Biden may say some really strange things (with increasing regularity). He even occasionally makes remarks that are downright offensive. But they’re still not half as objectively crazy, angry, or potentially dangerous as what Donald Trump regularly spews on Truth Social, the campaign trail, and cable news.
This is unfortunately what a lot of people on the right simply refuse to understand. They’ve been rationalizing and defending Trump’s derangement for so long that it’s become second-nature to them. What was once widely seen as outrageous is now just normal political theatrics, in their view.
Even after three devastating election cycles in a row for the GOP, most Trump admirers still don’t get that a majority of Americans view Trump very differently than they do. And of those who do get it, many have convinced themselves that it’s merely a perception problem caused by the media. Some Trump supporters even insist, after all that’s happened and continues to happen, that their guy’s biggest flaw is an off-putting personality, and that those who can’t deal with it are simply too sensitive or emotional.
Such sentiment helps explain why more than half of Republican voters say they want Trump to be their nominee next year. It doesn’t matter to them that Trump’s closest Republican competitor, Ron DeSantis, fares better against Biden in the NBC poll and other polls. If it did, DeSantis wouldn’t be trailing Trump among Republicans by over 30 points.
Policies? They don’t matter much either. If they did, Trump supporters would be making arguments for why Trump’s ideas are better than those of his primary opponents. Do they even know where Trump and the others differ on policies? Have they bothered to consider how much legislative power — which is needed to enact most policies — the Republicans have lost because of Trump?
A big problem with personality cults is that those who join them have trouble grasping why others don’t, and are even offended by them. They want to believe that what appeals to them appeals to most people, which is why, in the case of MAGA, they still argue (despite all contrary evidence) that the “silent majority” is on their side.
What’s particularly damaging about these continued misconceptions of Trump’s general-election strength is that they blind Trump supporters to the reality that as long as their guy remains the presumed leader of the Republican party, Biden will effectively get a pass by average Americans on all kinds of failings that would otherwise sink a president’s re-election effort. That includes cognitive decline.
One can point at a doddering old man talking to an imaginary penguin in the corner of a room, and effectively argue he’s unfit for office. But if the alternative to him is a guy running around with a blow torch and a gas-can, and threatening to set the room on fire if you don’t hand him the deed to your house, there’s suddenly a compelling case for the old dude with the penguin.
The bigger problem, of course, is that neither of these guys are fit for office. I think most Americans get that. A poll earlier this year showed that 95% of Americans don’t want this rematch, and the two people who seemingly want it more than anyone are — again — either mentally impaired or mentally deranged.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it makes much sense, or demonstrates a lot of mental sharpness, to defer to their judgment on a matter this important. The good news is that we, as voters, don’t have to. It’s primary season. We have choices (granted the Republicans have more than the Democrats).
Let’s make smart ones.