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Biden in position to win election

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — As Donald Trump careens from incompetence to blunder in his desperate effort to save his presidency, he is intensifying his attacks on Democratic nominee Joe Biden as an over-the-hill political ancient losing his grasp of reality. But it is Trump himself who continues to demonstrate his own unfitness for the office and his hapless confusion.

The president’s pivot from defending his White House tenure to casting Biden, approaching age 78, as a doddering empty suit is a naked confession of his own floundering reelection campaign.

While Trump continues to flout the guidance of experts on coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and to hold large rallies of the faithful without observing social distancing protocols, Biden wears a mask at limited appearances, mostly on television. The contrast cannot be lost to voters concerned about their own and their loved-ones’ safety.

Trump obviously operates on the premise that such rallies, which helped deliver him the presidency four years ago, are the key to his reelection in November, as Biden cautiously abides to the safety guidelines

The president for months mocked Biden for running while hunkered down from a “bunker” in his Delaware home.

But Biden has now broken out with mostly televised appearances in battleground states that Trump won in 2016 in his narrow Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton, who bested him in the popular vote. This time around, the Biden campaign is focusing on six such states, including Pennsylvania, where he showed up last week at a drive-in movie site near his hometown of Scranton.

The Trump campaign earlier sought to paint Biden as a “socialist,” but Biden has long been regarded in his own party as moderate, to the concern of many progressives that he is too mild for their tastes.

So Trump has switched to Biden’s much-noted verbal gaffes of the past, contending his history of talking too much should be a disqualifier for the Oval Office

That allegation is rather ludicrous coming an incumbent infamous for running off with his mouth and for telling lies by the thousands. In any event, the stage is now set for a long-awaited series of three debates starting in Cleveland later this month between Trump and Biden, which could be decisive for both men.

Trump’s camp obviously hopes the president can rattle Biden in the way he physically crowded and appeared to stalk Hillary Clinton in a televised debate in 2016. But Biden is a veteran debater who in 2008 so impressed his then-rival Barack Obama in one encounter that Obama later cited his performance as one of the reasons he chose Biden as his running mate.

Asked in a recent televised interview about Trump’s claim that at 77 going on 78, Biden would be too old handle the presidency, the Democratic candidate smiled and said, simply, “Watch me.” He will get his wish in those debates. In a town hall meeting aired on CNN last week, he occasionally sounded a bit halting, but was always lucid and to the point.

Biden also continues to rely heavily on his own history of personal family tragedy and grief, but always in a way that conveys his empathy to others who have shared such experiences.

In light of Trump’s recently reported remarks casting members of the American military as “losers” and “suckers,” Biden clearly will be prepared to remind the president of such observations, having already noted that his late son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015, served a year in Iraq as a volunteer member of the Delaware National Guard.

Nearly every public opinion poll on the 2020 presidential poll, including that of Trump-friendly Fox News, now has Trump trailing Biden by anywhere from two to 12 percentage points.

Presidential debates in the past have always been entertaining but not always decisive. In 1960, the dashing and sharp young John F. Kennedy outshone the grim, five-o’clock-shadowed Richard Nixon in the opinion of television viewers. But those who listened on radio said they thought Nixon had won.

In 1984, when Republican President Ronald Reagan debated former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale, he demolished Mondale by answering a question about his own advanced age, saying of the younger man: “I will not make age an issue in this campaign; I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” As the audience laughed, Mondale said later, “I knew when I walked off that that platform … that the election was over.”

But the coming Trump-Biden debates could be singularly decisive in determining the impact of the age issue regarding Biden, as well as the issue of Trump’s four-year tenure replete with chaos and peril.

Editor’s note: Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.

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