Political strategist David Axelrod has told the NYT that findings on the US president’s memory loss will resonate with voters.
President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign may have been undermined by a report showing that he averted criminal prosecution partly because of his allegedly declining mental acuity, David Axelrod, the US political strategist who twice helped Barack Obama win the presidency, has told the New York Times.
At issue is a report released on Thursday by a US Department of Justice special counsel who investigated Biden’s mishandling of classified documents. Special counsel Robert Hur said evidence showed that Biden “willfully retained and disclosed” classified materials from his two terms as vice president in the Obama administration, but criminal charges are unwarranted partly because it would be difficult to persuade a jury to convict a defendant who comes across as an “elderly man with a poor memory.”
Hur said Biden’s failing memory was evident during his interviews with investigators when he couldn’t remember what years he was vice president or roughly when his son Beau died. The president angrily responded to the special counsel’s claims in a hastily arranged press conference on Thursday night, insisting, “My memory is fine.” But later in the same briefing, he erroneously referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the leader of Mexico.
Axelrod told the New York Times that by apparently corroborating voter concerns about the 81-year-old Biden’s mental fitness to serve another four-year term, Hur dealt a significant blow to his reelection bid. “The most damaging things in politics are the things that confirm people’s preexisting suspicions, and those are the things that travel very fast,” the former Obama adviser said. “It’s a problem.”
Moreover, the damage is irreversible, Axelrod argued. “Fair or not, you can’t unring the bell.” He added that the special counsel’s report “goes to the core of what is plaguing Biden politically now, which is a widespread fear that he’s not up to it.”
Axelrod was far from alone among Democrat observers who were troubled by the report’s potential impact. NBC News said Hur’s findings had triggered “Democratic panic.” The outlet cited an unidentified Democrat lawmaker called the special counsel’s comments “a nightmare” that had put the party in “a grim situation.” CNN panelist Alyssa Farah Griffen said the special counsel’s allegations and Biden’s clumsy response had become a “five-alarm fire for the White House.”
Hur’s findings were released in the same week that Biden misremembered conversations he had with the leaders of France and Germany shortly after he took office in January 2021. He told supporters on Sunday that he had met with France’s Francois Mitterand, who actually died in 1996, and on Wednesday, he claimed to have spoken with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who died four years earlier. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday at the White House, he struggled to remember the name of Hamas, the Islamist group that’s at war with Israel.
An NBC poll released on Tuesday showed that 76% of US voters, including over half of Democrats, have concerns about whether Biden is mentally and physically fit to serve a second term as president.