Opinion: Biden’s defiant delusion

Editor’s Note: David Axelrod, a CNN senior political commentator and host of “The Axe Files,” was a senior adviser to former President Barack Obama and chief strategist for the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns.

Early in the interview Friday, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked President Joe Biden if he had watched his disastrous June 27th debate with Donald Trump that has created an existential crisis for the Biden campaign.

The president paused and appeared to search his memory. “I don’t think I did. No,” he said quietly.

Biden could be excused for wanting to put his awful debate performance in the rear view mirror. That was his purpose Friday in sitting down for the interview — to try and quell the panic that has gripped the Democratic Party.

He didn’t succeed.

To be sure, the president turned in a more energetic performance than he had on that woeful debate night, when he sometimes appeared lost and incoherent. In the interview, he stoutly touted his record and assailed Trump’s character in a fashion his supporters had hoped he would on the debate stage.

But on the big question that now threatens his campaign — whether he still has the stamina and mental acuity to serve for four more years in the world’s toughest job — the 81-year-old president offered little reassurance beyond a proud recitation of his impressive first-term accomplishments.

What exactly happened to him at the most consequential debate of his political life? Biden offered multiple explanations — a bad cold; exhaustion; inappropriate prep. Finally, he shrugged. “I just had a bad night, I don’t know why.”

“And how quickly did it come to you that you were having a bad night?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Well, it came to me I was having a bad night when I realized that even when I was answering a question, even though they turned his mic off, he was still shouting. And I let it distract me … I realized I wasn’t in control.”

That, in a nutshell, is the Republican attack. That an aged Biden is not in control, and that’s why his debate misfire was so devastating.

When Stephanopoulos asked the president if he would take an independent medical evaluation, complete with neurological and cognitive exams and release the results, Biden demurred and deflected.

“I take a cognitive test very day,” he said, pointing to the taxing duties of the presidency.

Maybe, but most Americans, having watched him lately, would grade him poorly on that score.

After the debate, the already robust number of Americans who deem the president too old to serve another term went up to 74%. Only 42% said the same about Trump, 78, whose own terrible debate performance was eclipsed by Biden’s meltdown.

Just as distressing was Biden’s stubborn denial of his public standing and position in a race that he has characterized as an existential battle for the survival of American democracy.

Three separate polls conducted by CNN, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal after the debate all showed Biden trailing Trump by six points nationwide. Previous polls have shown Biden trailing in nearly all the battleground states he narrowly won in 2020. And now a handful of other states he won — Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Virginia — appear to be in play.

At this rate, Biden is likely headed for a landslide defeat to a lawless and unpopular former president.

But when Stephanopoulos confronted him with poll numbers showing him trailing and a job approval rating lower than any president who has ever won re-election, Biden would have none of it.

“I don’t … I don’t buy that. I don’t think anybody’s more qualified to be president or win this race than me,” he said.

Only “the Lord Almighty” could persuade him to give up the race, the president said, as a growing chorus of Democrats, fearful of an electoral disaster, call for him to step aside.

Denial. Delusion. Defiance.

When Stephanopoulos asked him how he would feel if he continues and Trump were to win in November, the president who has told us that this is the most consequential election of our lifetimes seemed unmoved by that prospect.

“I’ll feel, as long as I gave it my all, and did as good a job as I know I can do … that’s what this is about.”

No, sir. It’s not.

Sometimes the Lord Almighty comes in the form of enlightened self-awareness.

The stakes are as great as Biden describes. And if he believes it, as I think he does, he will eventually do what duty and love of country requires, and step aside.

If he does not, it will be Biden’s age, and not Trump’s moral and ethical void, that will dominate the rest of this most important campaign and sully the president’s historic legacy.

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