Amidst a flurry of controversy, Joe Biden found himself at the center of a heated debate over his mental health. On Thursday, news broke that special prosecutor Robert Hur had cleared the President of any wrongdoing in an investigation into the mishandling of classified documents during his time as Vice President. While many saw this as good news, Hur’s report also raised concerns about Biden’s memory and cognitive abilities.
In just a few words, Hur described Biden as “a nice, well-intentioned old man with a bad memory,” adding that he didn’t even remember when his son Beau died. This touched on a sensitive and explosive topic in the presidential campaign: Biden’s mental health.
Today, at 81 years old, Biden is the oldest person to ever hold the office of President. He is also running for re-election at an age when most politicians retire. If he succeeds in his bid for another term, he will be 86 at the end of his presidency. The report from Hur has sparked renewed scrutiny of Biden’s mental capabilities and temperament. Some have even suggested invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from power if he becomes unfit to govern.
To try and control damage, Biden went out for an impromptu press conference at night to assure Americans that his memory was fine and that Hur’s report was wrong. However, he stumbled over some questions and left even more doubts about his cognitive acuity when people were looking for stability and reason on this issue.
Professor Emeritus Christopher Arterton believes that this incident exposes a serious deficit in Biden’s campaign: “The issue of Biden’s physical and mental capabilities is the most serious deficit that threatens his re-election.” He notes that some phrases in Hur’s report touched on this issue and went so far as to describe him as having “diminished capabilities.” Arterton adds that these concerns are compounded by recent mistakes made by Biden, which have raised doubts about his ability to govern effectively for another four years due to his age alone.
For Democrats, this is a disaster because it is seen as an Achilles heel for their candidate. Despite strong economic numbers under his leadership, many Americans express growing doubts about whether Biden can handle another four years due to his age alone. Donald Trump will surely be one of Biden’s main opponents in November if he wins the Republican election despite being 77 years old himself, who has also made mistakes several times and confused characters like Joe Biden did.
The impact of this setback on polling remains to be seen but Democrats must act quickly because they have managed to keep their candidate competitive with very few meetings with the press (the president so far offered 86 press conferences while Barack Obama offered only 422), with few interviews and with few unscripted interactions with the public.
One alternative is to take Biden out on the field more often so he can have more unrehearsed contact with voters and media outlets in order to demonstrate his competence in leading country while taking high risks.