I don’t think he will.
With less than a week to go before the first presidential debate, speculation as to how it will turn out is rising to a fever pitch. This isn’t especially unusual as the debates have been the centrepiece of US campaigns for many decades. What makes this debate unusual is that the conversation isn’t about who might win, it’s all about whether Joe Biden can remain coherent throughout, or whether he’ll even turn up at all.
Although the Biden camp dismisses claims of his cognitive decline as conspiracy theories, the instances of verbal fumbles and garbled, meaningless sentences continue to stack up.
Whilst it’s true that a lack of eloquence alone is not evidence of dementia, it’s hard to avoid that conclusion when the Joe Biden from 2012 is compared with the version we have today. This is especially ironic as one of the early manifestations of Trump Derangement Syndrome was a whispering campaign surrounding the 25th Amendment and Trump’s mental fitness for office. It’s hard not to feel a frisson of schadenfreude as Biden’s problems pile up.
Any objective observation of Biden’s behaviour must lead to concerns over his mental health. The former Vice President is showing signs of dementia and everybody knows it, especially his campaign staff. Thus, it doesn’t take a tactical genius to figure out that he’ll be extremely vulnerable in a high-pressure debate environment. Why else would expectations about his performance be so low?
This leaves the Biden campaign between a rock and a hard place. If they wheel him onto the debate stage, the chances of a campaign-defining gaffe are extremely high, even with moderators and media allies doing their best to carry him. Until now they’ve kept tight control of Biden either by hiding him in the basement or lining him up for puff piece interviews complete with pre-written notes and teleprompters. They’re doing that for a reason.
By contrast, the debates will be a hostile environment and I doubt that Biden’s medical team can do much to mask his cognitive decline for several hours of unrehearsed interaction.
The fact that the Biden campaign has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep their candidate away from unscripted encounters leads me to believe they can’t risk letting him share a debate stage with Donald Trump.
Of course it will look bad, but at least cancellation is a known quantity they can try to manage. The moment Biden is on his own with President Trump, they lose that control and literally anything could happen.
If I had to guess, I’d predict that some row over the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement will suddenly blow up next week, providing some pretext for the Biden campaign to pull out of the scheduled debates. Either that, or some confected row will become an excuse to demand ridiculous and unprecedented debate conditions the Trump campaign could never agree to.
Sure, the Democrats will take a lot of flak for a no-show, but that’s nothing compared to what could happen if sleepy Joe is left on his own without his handlers close by.
They just can’t risk it.