Biden and Trump both want you to ignore the obvious

  • After a shockingly weak debate performance, President Joe Biden is asking voters not to count him out.

  • But looking past worries over Biden's mental acuity and ability would mean ignoring obvious flaws.

  • In that way, Biden's strategy to ignore and deflect looks similar to how Trump campaigns.

After a shockingly weak debate performance, President Joe Biden is employing a Trumpian strategy: asking voters not to count him out despite obvious flaws in his campaign and to look past the questions of his fitness for office.

"I would not be running again if I didn't believe with all my heart and soul that I can do this job," 81-year-old Biden said Friday, attempting to reassure the crowd at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.

But that's not what it looked like on Thursday when Biden floundered in his debate performance against former President Donald Trump, political strategists told Business Insider.

"It was a disaster for President Biden," Alex Zdan, GOP political strategist and former New Jersey Republican candidate for US Senate, told BI. "It was a train wreck, impacting a volcano, going into a black hole, going into a comet. It was the worst-case scenario. It was everyone's fears come true. It got so bad, it's to the point where conservative Republicans, who never thought they'd feel this way before, are expressing empathy for the president."

Some of Biden's most loyal Democratic defenders have now publicly called on him to leave the race. So far, Biden has ignored those calls and urged voters to overlook his tired and, at times, incoherent debate performance.

"I don't walk as easy I as used to," Biden said Friday in North Carolina. "I don't speak as smoothly as I used to. I don't debate as well as I used to. But I know what I do know: I know how to tell the truth."

Representatives for the Biden campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BI.

But looking past worries over Biden's mental acuity and ability would mean ignoring obvious flaws — likely to the detriment of his own campaign, two public relations experts said.

"Given the conversation surrounding his age and the public being worried about his mental state, that performance could have swayed some undecided voters to either vote for Donald Trump or simply not vote at all," David Triana, a consultant for Triana PR, told BI. "Given how members of the Democratic Party are suggesting Biden should step aside and give someone else an opportunity this November, and the media seemingly propping up Gavin Newsom to do just that, I think this crisis reached DEFCON 1."

Biden's current refusal to acknowledge his shortcomings and his persistence in the race despite calls to drop out has begun to echo Trump's typical strategy of ignoring and deflecting criticism, Triana said. Dustin Siggins, a former political journalist turned PR consultant, agreed.

Both candidates are stubborn, Siggins said, and that stubbornness has bred success in spheres where it can be rewarded: politics and business.

"However, Trump's habit is both a choice and part of his natural personality," Siggins told BI. "Joe Biden, as we saw on Thursday night, seems too cognitively impaired to understand how he came across to the entire country."

Not everyone sees Biden's persistence in the race as an act of ego or hubris. Brand strategist Rebecca Horan called it "par for the course for any politician."

"For one thing, he is still president, so stepping down from the race due to his age might seem like he is conceding the MAGA Republicans' case that he is not an effective president. It's easy to understand why someone would have difficulty doing that," Horan told BI. "I also believe there's some optimism — an 'I can fix this' stance — to Biden's persistence, where he does believe he is doing this for the good of the country."

If it got to the point where the overwhelming sentiment within the Democratic Party was that Biden should step down, Triana said he believes Biden would — another difference between the two candidates.

Where the similarities end

Another Trump presidency would mean a vastly different America than if Biden won a second term. Trump has promised his second term would be categorized by "revenge" against his political enemies; he has threatened to indict Biden if the federal courts don't grant him immunity from prosecution, and authoritarianism expert Timothy Snyder worries democracy may not survive if Trump wins again.

Trump has asked the American people to ignore the events of January 6, 2021, and his lies around the 2020 election. He's asked that they ignore that he was convicted on 34 felony counts related to hush money payments to a porn actor. He'd rather voters forget that he still faces three additional criminal cases — including two that center on allegations that he attempted to overthrow American democracy — and that he was impeached twice during his first term.

He also wants us to forget his lies, of which there were at least 30 on Thursday night (compared to Biden's nine, a fact-checker found). These included vastly overstating the economy's health during his tenure, exaggerating the size of the US's trade deficit with China, and falsely claiming the Biden administration is weak on border policy.

The GOP has, for the most part, gamely followed this selective amnesia. Politicians that haven't have largely been primaried or siloed to be talking heads on cable TV.

When BI reached out for comment, representatives for the Trump campaign declined to answer questions about similarities between Trump and Biden. Instead, a spokesperson pointed to the former president's recent statement declaring victory during Thursday's debate.

A harm to democracy?

The election will ultimately be decided by Independents, undecided voters, and anyone who might stay home. To have a chance, Biden will need that constituency to ignore his poor debate performance and questions about his age. So the question becomes: Will they come November?

Even some of Biden's most strident supporters are worried he's no longer the country's greatest chance of defeating Trump and has instead become a liability in the fight against him.

"One of the key arguments for Biden is saving democracy: 'Trump tried to lead an insurrection on January 6, and I'm the one that will stop that,'" Christian Grose, a professor of political science and public policy at USC, told BI. "If there are now Democrats calling for Biden to step down or not run, it sort of messes up that narrative."

Qasim Rashid, a human rights lawyer and former Democratic candidate for congressional seats in Virginia and Illinois, told BI there needs to be an off-ramp built for Biden that protects his dignity and his legacy and "allows us to continue our momentum on the values of protecting democracy, fighting for economic justice and ensuring that 2024 is not the last presidential election, but a stepping stone to 2028, 2032 and so on."

"At the end of the day, for me, the top priority is, how do we protect our democracy?" Rashid said. "And if the evidence shows that that's with Biden, OK — but I think the evidence is now starting to show, pretty compellingly, that there's a better alternative, and we should take that seriously. Whether Biden and his team and the Democratic Party listen to that, it's up to them."

The New York Times Editorial Board argued that Biden's staying in the race could ultimately be a detriment to democracy. In an opinion article published Friday, the board stated that the greatest act of public service Biden could do now would be to end his campaign for reelection.

Refusing to do so, the board wrote, puts America at risk of the very fate Biden aimed to avoid by running in the first place: a second Trump presidency.

"The clearest path for Democrats to defeat a candidate defined by his lies is to deal truthfully with the American public: acknowledge that Mr. Biden can't continue his race, and create a process to select someone more capable to stand in his place to defeat Mr. Trump in November," The Times' board wrote. "It is the best chance to protect the soul of the nation — the cause that drew Mr. Biden to run for the presidency in 2019 — from the malign warping of Mr. Trump. And it is the best service that Mr. Biden can provide to a country that he has nobly served for so long."

Read the original article on Business Insider