No, this isn't Biden's 'Comey moment' — at least not yet

  • Some Democrats are fearful that are entering a "Comey moment" in the wake of special counsel Robert Hur's report.

  • There are some notable differences between now and July 2016 when Comey held his famous news conference.

  • The one striking similarity is what the White House should fear.

A Justice Department official upends the presidential campaign with a blistering assessment of the leading Democrat all the while announcing that there isn't enough evidence to prove criminal wrongdoing.

Democrats who are having fever dreams about James Comey shouldn't resort to a full freakout over special counsel Robert Hur's blistering views of President Joe Biden's alleged declining memory.

The biggest difference is that Comey made his initial comments in July 2016, months later in the political calendar. Comey also made his statements on camera, a distinction that matters when cable TV producers can cue up old footage months later. And most critically of all, Comey took an infamous second bite out of Clinton on October 28, the end of the month that political junkies mark for major election surprises.

Unlike the final stretch of an election, lots of voters are tuned out right now. A January CNN poll found that only 26% of voters seek out news about the campaign while a third of voters pay barely any to no attention to the race at all.

The poll largely fits with a current crisis afflicting national news outlets that have seen views and subscriptions crater from the pandemic and Trump era highs. Biden got his wish to make the presidency boring again, and faced with a rematch nobody wants, voters have checked out of political news.

The West Wing shouldn't celebrate.

Politics being boring to the average American doesn't mean a single story can't break through, as former Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer notes.

"I fear — and I hope I am wrong — that unlike most of the marginalia that excites political junkies, the Special Counsel's descriptions of Biden will break through to the public at large," Pfeiffer wrote.

The most damaging piece of Hur's conclusion is that it largely confirms what many Americans already thought. There are a plethora of polls that all show that voters think Biden is too old — just look at NBC's latest poll that found 62% of voters have major concerns that Biden might not have "the necessary mental and physical health to be president for a second term."

It should also be noted that the White House fundamentally rejects Hur's contention that the president is slipping.

"We just reject that this is true," White House spokesman Ian Sams told reporters on Friday. "I think it does raise questions about gratuitousness and it does raise questions about why that's in there."

It didn't help Biden's defense that in the same appearance he defended his memory he confused the president of Egypt with the president of Mexico.

Hur's note that Biden couldn't remember the timing of his vice presidency or when his son Beau died will likely only exacerbate those fears.

The worst-case scenario for Democrats would be a cycle of stories that combine Hur's report with polls about Biden's age, and as a result voters become even more concerned about Biden's abilities. This self-fulfilling cycle is the decidedly less fun version of how presidential candidates can spin a surprise win into actual campaign momentum.

Looking back, Hillary Clinton's biggest problem with Comey in 2016 was that his conclusions reinforced voters' fears that she was untrustworthy and corrupt. As Nate Silver noted in his review of election coverage, Comney's infamous letter to Congress days before the 2016 election led to headlines with Clinton's name "FBI" and "email" for days.

Unlike Comey, most of this is under Biden's control. With few exceptions, the only other shoes to drop about his memory can come from his own public statements. It's why conservatives, beyond their never-gonna-happen hopes of the 25th Amendment, are pushing the Justice Department to release the transcript from Biden's five-hour interview with Hur. Like Democrats after the Mueller report, the GOP wants to use every document and detail to twist the knife further.

Still, Democrats see peril in this moment. Paul Begala, a longtime Clinton hand, joked that he is responding to his moment like a baby. Begala also suggested what could be the White House's long-term response: make this about former President Donald Trump.

"Look, I'm a Biden supporter and I slept like a baby last night," Begala said on CNN Friday morning. "I woke up every two hours and wet the bed. This is terrible for Democrats. And anybody with a functioning brain knows that … but here's what you do, you attack the other guy."

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