How Biden Could Yet Defeat Trump

Living in the UK as I do,  I didn’t watch the Biden-Trump debate on CNN but in the middle of the night I woke up, switched on the radio and heard reports of “panic among US Democrats”.  Sure enough, the first news clip was audible confirmation that Biden was not just old but infirm.  He sounded unfit for office: stumbling, raspy and confused.  My immediate conclusion was the same as American commentators who promptly announced “game over”.

But it was the second clip which really hit me, and might, just might enable Democrats to turn this ‘car crash’ debate back to their advantage: Trump and Biden were arguing about who was the stronger golf player, in a way that said they really thought this was important.

Rake Wars

Hearing Biden (81) and Trump (78) bickering over golf, I was immediately transported back to a small Norfolk village we lived in for a couple of years.

Just down the road, two old men occuppied adjacent Council houses with traditional cottage-style front gardens, divided by a privet hedge.  These men had been at odds with one another since World War II (one had been a conscientious objector), and shortly before our arrival, neighbours had been forced to intervene, when they began fighting one another over the hedge, using rakes.  It seemed funny at the time but then they weren’t using it as a proxy judgement for taking on leadership of the Parish Council, let alone the most powerful nation on earth.

A Way Back For The Democrats

So long as Biden’s capacity due to age was an unresolved issue, it remained a fatal test.  Barring extraordinary developments between now and the election it looks to me like he failed that test.

If the debate had ended at that point, that would be the out-take.  Firm Democrats would despair, committed Republicans would rejoice.   US political analysts seem to agree that to win, the views of undecided voters, Independents and ‘double-haters’, ‘double-despairers’ or ‘double dislikers’ may also be critical but the main damage would have been to Biden.  Trump did himself no new favours but he probably didn’t drive away many more potential voters than those he had already alienated.

But it didn’t end there.  It ended after the hypothetical golf-match, which made neither of the protagonists look suitable or serious as Presidents.

The we-think-politics-is-golf framing could change the significance of the debate.  As numerous commentators have already noted, golf is a game primarily associated with retirees, and often richer, whiter males. Golf in the US was in decline pre Covid and its TV audiences still are. It was and probably is a past-time of an increasingly old demographic. During Covid it got a boost as a ‘safe-place’ escape from the realities of the pandemic.  It’s a big game still in America but far from the national sport.  The proxy golf-off spat will have reminded a lot of potential swing voters of why they didn’t like the Trump-Biden choice.

Is this goodbye to golf as a political metaphor?

My guess is that the debate leaves most Americans with the conclusion that Joe Biden, cruel a judgement as it is, has proved himself “too old”.  If Biden were now to step back, relinquish his candidacy and help his Party find a younger, sharper more vigorous Candidate, younger of course than Trump, then for the potential swing voters, there could be a new more palatable choice, and rob Trump of the “age card”.

A political communications task would be to define why, while Biden is “too old”,  Trump is “too ….”.  Preferably in a single word.  Dishonest?  Unreliable?  Insane? Uncontrolled?  Which one most resonates most effectively with potential swing voters (leaving aside those committed to RFK) is something that can be researched.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom

Proverbs, 11.2

Age it is said, brings wisdom but it also brings age: none of us get any younger and the age thing is not going to go away for Candidate Biden, it will just get worse.

It looks to me at least that the most useful thing Joe Biden could do to help his Party, his country, and others, is to swallow his pride and lend his wisdom and backing to a new candidate.  He can’t ‘take Trump down with him’ right now but he can still help bring him down, and make space for someone else.







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