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The Hur Report Kneecaps The Biden Campaign’s 2024 ‘Basement Strategy’

The Hur report on Biden’s mental capacity has ended any chance the Biden campaign had of successfully keeping him quiet and out of public view.

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If Democrats were previously hoping to replay the 2020 “basement” strategy to get President Biden reelected this year, that hope is gone. It vanished with the release of Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report on Biden’s criminal mishandling of highly classified documents.   

To be sure, the immediate, short-term consequences of Hur’s report are bad enough for Biden. The report officially concluded that Biden suffers from diminished mental capacity at least in the colloquial, if not strictly legal, sense. Hur pointed specifically to Biden’s diminished mental state as the reason for his decision not to prosecute. On top of that, the report forced Biden to respond in a hastily assembled, same-day press conference. Biden’s performance in that press conference only raised more alarms about his mental faculties.

Yet the indirect consequences of Hur’s report may be even more difficult for the Biden team to deal with over the long term. In particular, the Hur report ended any chance that the Biden campaign had of successfully deploying the “basement” strategy that hid Biden from the public’s view in 2020. Needless to say, the Covid excuse gave the Biden team the perfect cover to deploy that strategy last election. It won’t work now.  

Even before Hur’s report was released, the American public had been expressing an unusually high level of concern about Biden’s fitness for office. A recent NBC News poll found that more than three-quarters, 76 percent, of American voters are concerned about Biden’s physical and mental health.

Probably for this reason, the Biden team had already begun to show signs that it was set on pursuing, at least to some extent, the “basement” strategy again this year. The most recent example was declining the traditional Super Bowl interview. Giving up free airtime to speak directly to an audience of 120 million voters is not something politicians running for reelection tend to do. So of course there were murmurings that Biden’s team declined the interview because of Biden’s diminished state. But such murmurings were manageable then. Not anymore.

Consider the presidential debates. Prior to Hur’s report, Biden plausibly could have mitigated the usual negative perceptions associated with debate avoidance with rhetorical justifications such as: “We won’t give Trump a platform for lies,” “Trump denigrates the debate process,” “Trump wouldn’t give Haley debates,” and the like. Even that strategy would not have been without hiccups. But Biden and his media allies probably could have managed to keep any negative fallout from avoiding debates to a minimum.

Now employing that strategy would only put the mental capacity issue front and center. Americans will conclude that Biden is avoiding the debates because he is not mentally up to the challenge no matter what Democrats say. It would confirm the view already held by most Americans that Biden is a feeble-minded old man.

Biden’s team is in a lose-lose situation. Putting Biden on stage for a rigorous debate is virtually certain to exacerbate the public’s view of his diminished faculties. Not putting Biden on stage for a debate also is virtually certain to exacerbate the public’s view of his diminished faculties.

Mental incapacity is a suis generis political issue. A president can have all kinds of other weaknesses and still survive politically by relying on other strengths. Mental incompetence is not one of those weaknesses. Biden’s team can’t say, “Yeah, he’s mentally diminished but…” Biden and his allies must confront this issue by emphatically denying the issue exists. Unfortunately for him, Americans have already decided the issue does exist. And the Hur report confirms it.

The only way for the Biden team to change public perception is to affirmatively demonstrate Biden’s mental fitness to handle the most difficult and demanding job in the world. The Biden campaign’s new tactic of releasing short, prerecorded Biden clips on TikTok simply won’t cut it. At this point, only repeated, lucid, rigorous, unscripted public performances by Biden can turn this issue around.

Quite frankly, watching Biden, that seems beyond impossible at this point. And the problem for Biden’s team is magnified because we are dealing with … Biden. Biden has always been prone to bizarre behavior (e.g., sniffing hair) and verbal gaffes, even in his political prime. Now all these things, including ambiguous behavior, will be construed against Biden’s mental capacity.

Some Democrats undoubtedly believed their best campaign strategy was to let Trump talk and to keep Biden quiet. Special Counsel Hur’s report buried that strategy in the basement.


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