The presidential race is now about Biden’s age. There’s only one way to change that.

President Joe Biden during the debate at CNN's studios in Atlanta.
President Joe Biden during the debate at CNN's studios in Atlanta. Photo: Jack Gruber / USA TODAY NETWORK via IMAGN

Democrats have a grandpa problem.

For a lot of families, there comes a time to sit Grandpa down and tell him to hand the car keys over. It’s not safe for him to drive anymore. It’s not as if he’s completely slipped into dementia, but he’s having enough lapses – getting lost, fender benders – that it’s just not safe for him to be behind the wheel anymore. Grandpa invariably insists that everything is fine when obviously it’s not.

That’s a painful but necessary conversation. The problem for Democrats is that Grandpa is the president. Compounding the problem is that instead of agreeing that it’s time for Grandpa to move on, the actual family in this case—the Bidens—is doubling down on the denial.

Obviously, there is no good solution to this problem. But what is making it worse is that President Joe Biden is calling all the shots. No one can take the keys away from him without his assent. He made it perfectly clear in his interview with George Stephanopoulos that God alone has the power to do that.

And even then, Biden was less than firm. If the “Lord Almighty” asked, said Biden, “I might do that.”

Indeed, Biden keeps insisting that he’s the best chance the Democrats have to defeat Donald Trump.

“I don’t think anybody’s more qualified to be president or win this race than me,” he told Stephanopoulos.

The U.S. political system is now trapped by the giant egos of the two candidates. “No one else is qualified” is something that Biden and Trump have in common. Trump famously declared in 2016, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.” Biden is now saying that he alone is the Democrats’ only hope.

To be clear, the two candidates aren’t the same. Trump is such a narcissist that he truly believes no one is smarter or better than he is. But Biden’s weakness is that he has been discounted so many times in his career that he doubles down when he’s under attack. He staged the comeback in 2020 when his campaign was all but over. In his mind, why should this be different?

But this time is completely different. The doubts about Biden’s age have exploded, thanks to Biden. His insistence in the Stephanopolous interview that he didn’t need a cognitive test didn’t help his case nor did his occasional fumbles. Meanwhile, empathetic physicians looking at Biden’s performance from afar feel that something has substantially changed for the worse in a short period of time. At a minimum, they say, Biden should undergo testing.

Within days of the debate, the media made it clear that Biden’s claim that it was just one bad night wasn’t true. The media tracked down multiple (anonymous) sources, including foreign diplomats, who said that Biden has been exhibiting exactly the kind of issues that 50 million Americans saw during the debate. Reporters have seen the problem with their own eyes, as Biden relies increasingly on short appearances and teleprompters.

There’s reason to believe that voters don’t want to choose Trump. They have made it clear that they aren’t happy with either candidate. As long as Biden was able to allay people’s long-standing concerns about his age, he looked poised to beat back Trump’s re-election effort, even if just barely.

But Biden’s age is now the primary campaign issue. Trump doesn’t have to say anything else to win the election except play on people’s fears about a senile commander-in-chief. Indeed, in a rarity for Trump, his campaign has essentially gone silent, willingly ceding the media spotlight to Biden. Every story about Biden’s age is a gift to the Trump campaign, and we will have an endless run of them as long as Biden is the presumptive nominee.

The risk that Democrats face is a huge intraparty knife fight. As is, Democrats are caught in the worst possible bind. They need to shore up support for the ticket in case Biden doesn’t step down, which only strengthens Biden’s position to stay on the ticket. Thus we are treated to the odd performance of Democrats privately freaking out and publicly reiterating their heartfelt support for Biden’s re-election.

If Biden won’t step aside, the recriminations will begin before Election Day. Many Democrats will be steeling themselves for defeat, convinced that Biden can’t win. Biden’s supporters will be infuriated that the party wasn’t sufficiently loyal to accept the candidate without question. The focus will shift to down-ballot races in hopes that Democrats can salvage what they can in Congress.

Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris, who by all accounts is the likely successor if Biden does step aside, is giving Democrats a taste of what might be possible. In an interview at the Essence Festival of Culture last Saturday, Harris went after Trump and the Supreme Court in one slashing sound bite.

“The United States Supreme Court essentially told this individual who has been convicted of 34 felonies that he will be immune from essentially the activity he has told us he is prepared to engage in if he gets back into the White House,” Harris said.

That’s the kind of attack Democrats need to hear to energize voters this fall. Sadly, it seems unlikely that they will get to hear that from Biden, unless he has a teleprompter nearby.

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