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Some people have unfortunate weeks. But if you're a certain octogenarian chief executive of the United States of America with a reputation for declining cognitive abilities, you just might have a terrible, horrible week that culminates in a purely distilled no good, very bad day of escalating awfulness.
"The choice is clear. Donald Trump's campaign is about him, not America, not you," Biden told a Pennsylvania audience on this year's anniversary of the 2021 Capitol riot. "Our campaign is different. For me and Kamala, our campaign is about America. It's about you."
That's a fair enough bid for votes, so far as these things go. But, leaving aside Vice President Kamala Harris for the moment, as most Americans would very much like to do, it's convincing only to the extent that President Biden remembers where "America" is and is clear about the identity of the "you" he is addressing. And as a series of recent incidents illustrate, that's not at all certain.
A Cascade of Mental Slips
"Right after I was elected, I went to a G7 meeting in southern England," Biden said last week at a Nevada political rally. "And I sat down and said, 'America is back!' and Mitterand from Germany—I mean France—looked at me and said, 'How long you back for?'"
Nice catch that Mitterand was French, not German! That's a save. But forgetting that Mitterand has been dead since 1996 and that today's French president is named "Macron" is not.
Later in the week, in New York, Biden twice attributed a supposed 2021 comment by then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Helmut Kohl, who held that position in the '80s and '90s and died in 2017.
He also appeared to forget the name of the Hamas terrorist group that attacked Israel while he was updating the press on the continuing conflict.
This, of course, plays into the public's perception that Biden may not be at the top of his—or anybody's—game when it comes to his cognitive status.
Last June, an NBC News poll found "68% of all voters say they have concerns about Biden having the necessary mental and physical health to be president, including 55% who say they have 'major' concerns." A similar 52.21 percent of respondents told pollsters in September that they are "very concerned" about "Joe Biden's cognitive health affecting his ability to serve another term as President effectively."
Many voters are also worried about Donald Trump's mental fitness for office. He feeds into such concerns when he, for example, confuses Republican rival Nikki Haley with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as he did last month. But, in polling, public concerns over Trump's mental health come in significantly lower than those for Biden. Frankly, Trump's brand is vicious rather than addled.
When You Welcome Good News for Your Opponent
So, Biden's team must have breathed a relative sigh of relief when media attention turned on Thursday to Supreme Court hearings on the status of Colorado efforts to bar the GOP's presumed nominee from the ballot. Then again, it wasn't exactly positive news for the current president.
"A clear majority of justices expressed overwhelming skepticism toward the plaintiffs' claim that Trump is disqualified under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment because he 'engaged in insurrection,'" reported Slate's Mark Joseph Stern. "Justices across the ideological spectrum suggested that individual states cannot enforce Section 3 against federal candidates, at least not without congressional approval."
Well, at least it was a distraction, right? Biden's main rival looks bound for the ballot, but at least nobody is talking about cognitive decline.
Well, they weren't right up until Special Counsel Robert Hur released his report into Joe Biden's mishandling of classified documents.
Good News, Really Bad News
"Our investigation uncovered evidence that President Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen," finds the report.
"We decline prosecution of Mr. Biden."
"At trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory," notes the report. "He did not remember when he was vice president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended ('if it was 2013—when did I stop being Vice President?'), and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term began ('in 2009, am I still Vice President?'). He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died."
Ouch. That's not where the White House team wanted this to go. The president himself bitterly responded in a press briefing where he welcomed the decision to not prosecute but denounced aspersions on his cognitive abilities, and insisted "my memory is fine." Then he took a question about Israel.
"As you know, initially, the President of Mexico, El-Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in," he answered.
But Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is the president of Egypt.
"Mexico? Mexico? Where did that come from?" asked CNN's Jeffrey Toobin. "That's the only thing anyone's going to remember from this."
In a snap end-of-week poll by YouGov, 47 percent of respondents say Joe Biden's health and age will "severely limit his ability to do the job" if he wins in November. Honestly, 32 percent say the same of Trump, but one third is a hell of a lot better than just shy of half when people are trying to decide which candidate is less bad.
Last week, Joe Biden had a no good very bad day and it's a good bet there are more to come.