The fifth installment of the Democratic debate series took place on Wednesday, Nov. 2, in Atlanta, and Joe Biden was recorded on stage with his foot more firmly secured in his mouth than Americans have yet seen this election cycle. As disheartening as it is to admit it, image is vital in politics, and Biden appears to be hell-bent on constructing himself as befuddled and out of touch with his own party. The most recent debate seemed to make one thing very clear; Biden is not sharp enough to compete on the debate stage. The fact of the matter is that the former vice president may simply be too old to keep up.
Throughout the majority of the previous debates, Biden has been the preferred target of nearly all the other candidates as he has been leading in many polls since launching his campaign. One might think that two previous runs at the presidency in 1988 and 2008, along with decades of experience in politics, might have prepared Biden for these attacks, but unfortunately, his greatest challenge on the debate stage is himself. Biden’s first major stumble occurred when he was discussing how to prevent sexual assault and violence against women from happening on college campuses by repeating “we’re gonna keep punching at it,” resulting in audible scoffs from the audience.
Biden then once again tripped over his words while arguing his appeal to black voters, noting that he had the support of “the only bl- African American that had been elected to the United States Senate;” cameras then cutting to a confused Cory Booker before he began to grin and interjected with a delighted “that’s not true!” Biden stood frozen with his mouth agape as the crowd erupted in laughter, before realizing his mistake, shouting “I said the first!” It was too late, the damage had been done. The camera then cut to an outwardly amused Kamala Harris, a female African American senator, holding up her hands as if to say that she too was bewildered by the former vice president’s ramblings.
Reacting to the vice president’s meltdown during the debate on CNN, former Chief Campaign Strategist for the Obama campaign, David Axelrod, remarked that Biden appeared to be “Mr. Magooing his way” through the primary. It is unfortunate that Biden’s demeanor is so unintentionally cartoonish during debates, as it is ultimately distracting voters from his moderate platform, which is arguably vital for balancing a ballot featuring some of the most left platforms to be legitimately considered by the Democratic party. For instance, Cory Booker’s attack on Biden for his recent invocation of the term “gateway drug” to describe marijuana has arguably distracted many viewers from the fact that Biden is actually a believer in federally decriminalizing marijuana and leaving the rest up to the states, a centrist policy which might actually appeal to some voters who are more leery of clear cut legalization.
The most significant consequence of Biden’s perceived lack of mental agility is the fact that he isn’t polling well with young voters. This is one of the problems that ultimately cost Hilary Clinton the 2016 election, and it does not bode well that in an analysis for the Washington Post, Martin Wattenberg, a professor of political science, compares him to the last Democratic nominee. Biden is doing very well with seniors, but in Iowa, he is only polling at 2% with voters under the age of 30. This pattern makes it more likely that Biden will win the primary but then lose the general election just as Clinton did as significantly more young voters come out for the general election than the primary election.
Biden isn’t the only significantly older candidate, as both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump would also be the oldest president ever should they win the general election. The difference is that Biden’s age is shining through most clearly during debates, and young voters simply are not going to elect a centrist “Mr. Magoo.” Before laying into Biden about his marijuana comments, Booker mentioned that Biden swore him in and he described Biden as “a hero.” Rather than write that off as a concession, it’s time that Biden retire and content himself with the fine, if not controversial, cohort of politicians he helps produce.