Mona Charen
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Would you gamble on a Biden comeback?

One of the saddest fables people comforted themselves with over the past eight years was the one about the strength of American institutions: The voters could elevate an unfit, malevolent demagogue, but our checks and balances were robust; our institutions would prevent any serious damage.

Over the course of these years, one institution after another has demonstrated the opposite — that they are not bulwarks, merely facades.

An entire political party, the party of Lincoln no less, abandoned its devotion to law and tradition as well as principles like free trade, concern about government debt, welcoming immigrants, cordiality to free enterprise and devotion to American world leadership. 

Huge swaths of the press, an indispensable institution in a free society, have turned themselves into propaganda outlets that rival North Korea’s.

Leaders of the business community have rallied to Trump’s side, showering him with contributions and soft-pedaling his threat to the freedoms that are foundational to free enterprise.

Conservative organizations and think tanks have become MAGA mouthpieces.

Some churches have swapped God for Trump, and even among those who haven’t gone that far, criticism of Trump is treated as a kind of blasphemy.

Until this week, one institution that mostly resisted the prevailing winds was the judiciary — Aileen Cannon, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito notwithstanding. With Trump v. United States, that is gone. Another domino falls — a massive one. The decision, which may rank among the most egregious in American history, places the president above the law and creates a glidepath for massive abuse of power if not outright dictatorship.

It is against this backdrop that we must consider the Biden candidacy. The past week has demonstrated that the only check left against autocracy in our own country is the vote on Nov. 5. The stakes were massive before Trump v. United States. They have become astronomical since.

The question all of us must answer is: Are we willing to gamble our democracy on Biden’s capacity to win?

Before the debate, I was. Now, I conclude that the risks are too great. Before the debate I was disappointed in Biden’s decision to run again (though I thought he did a good job as president) but reconciled to it. Now I am enraged at him and those around him who put ego, pride and stubbornness ahead of country when making that decision. I believed the Biden team when they said that State of the Union Biden was the real thing and that the manifold stories of decline and dementia were extremely exaggerated partisan hits. Now I can see that the reports of deterioration were more right than wrong and that the Biden team was hiding him and deceiving us.

He skipped the Super Bowl interview. He’s been taking the back entrance to Air Force One to avoid the longer staircase. Even in the press conference he called to deny Robert Hur’s allegations that he was losing his grip, he got the presidents of Mexico and Egypt confused. That followed hard on the heels of referring to Emmanuel Macron as Francois Mitterrand (who died in 1996).

Further, Biden asked for this debate. Presumably, he and his team recognized that he needed to reassure Americans, even large numbers of Democrats, that he was mentally and physically up to the demands of another term. A March AP/NORC poll found that only 40% of Democrats were extremely or very confident that Biden had the mental capacity to serve another term. That’s bad enough, but among non-Democrats the picture was grim. A June 5-7 CBS poll found that 72% of independents did not think Biden had the mental and cognitive health to serve as president.

Biden’s debate performance confirmed the very worst rumors of his senescence. The early post-debate polls are confirming the scale of the failure.

In a normal year, it would be irresponsible to ask voters to choose an ailing 81-year-old. This year, it is a catastrophe. The Biden who was revealed last Thursday night cannot defeat Trump. Remember: The 2020 version of Biden barely did.

If Biden were to withdraw from the race, he would be hailed immediately as a statesman. Meanwhile, the prospect of a decades-younger candidate who can articulate an argument would thrill voters who’ve been approaching November with all the enthusiasm of French Revolution victims riding in tumbrils to the guillotine. Independents in particular would rejoice at having another option.

In 2020, the normally fractious and identity-mad Democrats put all of that aside to unite behind the old white guy in the name of defeating a true menace. I pray that the party can find its way to doing that again this year — thinking not of who is Black or female or Asian or Hispanic but who is best situated to win. It may be Kamala Harris. But it may be someone else.

The Democratic Party is the oldest continuously functioning political party in the world. Everything is riding on whether it remains a strong institution capable of fulfilling its purpose. Right now, its overriding purpose is to keep Trump from power.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her new book, “Hard Right: The GOP’s Drift Toward Extremism,” is available now.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

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