Unlike Matt Yglesias, I don’t feel “terrible” that I misled you about Joe Biden. Reading his mea culpa, I began to ask myself why. Like Matt, “I take my job seriously and try to provide accurate information and insights on the issues I cover.” And I didn’t tell you that Biden was no longer a viable candidate for the presidency. I didn’t predict that, during his debate with Donald Trump, he would look like a “hospice patient who got lost on his way to the bathroom.”

But the reason I don’t feel badly is because I didn’t know.

To start at the beginning, Biden literally did much of his campaigning in 2020 in his Delaware basement. Always known as a gaffe machine, and not having any special need at his age to expose himself unnecessarily to crowds during a pandemic, it made sense to lay low and let Trump make the case against himself. The Republicans accused Biden of hiding his senility, but they had little evidence. Biden was going to win if he didn’t screw things up, so he was extremely cautious. It made sense as a strategy and it worked.

Once Biden became president, I was surprised at how infrequently he spoke publicly or did interviews. But I also knew the public had heard way too much from its commander-in-chief during Trump’s social media presidency. Biden seemed to be giving us a well-deserved break from drama by focusing on actually doing the job. It felt like Biden was keeping a promise to return us to normalcy, even if he was less present than any president in the modern era.

I did start to get the sense that the White House team was being overly protective and worried just a little about whether it was actually warranted. I wanted Biden out in the country talking about infrastructure projects and other accomplishments from his term in office. I wasn’t seeing enough of this. But I also didn’t see any obvious signs that he was suffering from serious cognitive decline. I didn’t know anyone who had access and expressed concerns.

In the lead up to the 2024 State of the Union, there was a lot of discussion, generated from the right, that Biden was going to stutter and drool through the whole thing, but he gave an excellent speech and seemed mentally sharp. That settled my mind. I was still worried about his almost inexplicable unpopularity and prospects of winning reelection, but I no longer harbored doubts that he was up to the campaign.

Well, he isn’t up to the campaign. That’s obvious now. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that Biden has taken a turn for the worse since the State of the Union, and I’m sure the stress of seeing his son Hunter railroaded by his own Justice Department hasn’t helped. But the truth is that in retrospect Biden has not been campaigning aggressively on his record at any point during his presidency. His own team has been holding him back from the beginning. And, in that sense, it shouldn’t surprise us that he’s not capable of making a sustained defense of his record now.

Can he muddle through until November? No.

Emphatically, no.

And much worse than the fact that he will almost surely lose an eminently winnable election is that he isn’t fit to serve another term if he wins. His cognitive abilities will decline every day now, and likely at an accelerating pace. Projecting forward four and a half years, I cannot stand here and tell you that he’ll still be mentally competent.

I can’t tell you that about Trump either, obviously, since he’s also showing many signs of mental decline. But Trump’s moral decline has always been the primary problem with him. Concerns about his mental acuity are far down the list of worries about seeing him back in the Oval Office. Which is why what Matt says here hurts me a little:

Columnists calling on Biden to step down provide, in my view, a small boost to Trump’s election odds and a minuscule increase in the odds that Biden actually steps aside. I think we have to say it anyway, because this is journalism and we owe a duty of truth to our audience. But in narrow cost-benefit terms, the public criticism of Biden has negative expected value.

I have to say it anyway. Saying what I think is one reason I don’t often have cause to regret misleading my audience. And I think Matt is correct about this:

…I think the case for Biden over Trump remains strong, but the only people who are going to buy it are people who are comfortable with the idea of Kamala Harris taking over. Which just means that at this point, Harris would be a stronger nominee than Biden.

I do not think Harris is a strong nominee, at all, but she would definitely be stronger than Biden because she can make an aggressive and coherent case for herself and the Biden administration’s record. Choosing who should replace Biden is a matter for open debate, as there are many factors to consider. That Biden should remove himself from contention should not be open for debate. Sadly and regrettably, he’s cooked.

I didn’t tell you this before because I didn’t know it. I’m telling you now so I won’t feel terrible later.

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