It was meant to be a kumbaya moment for the Democrats. Barack Obama, the still revered 44th President, would make his first formal visit to Joe Biden’s White House – and sprinkle some of his leadership magic over a struggling administration. Barack and Joe, the old duo, were to mark the 12th anniversary of what is thought to be their greatest legislative achievement: the passing of the Affordable Care Act.
Unfortunately, last week’s event ended up reminding most Americans that the current President may be better off in an Expensive Care Home. The videos from the day were painful to watch: Biden bumbled around helplessly as his former boss worked the room. Obama looked still so charismatic, charming, confident. Biden was the opposite.
Biden’s supporters in the media were quick to point out that mean Republican operatives had edited to clips to make Biden look more lost than he was. Maybe so. But the camera can’t lie that much. Watching the two men together, it was impossible not to feel sorry for Biden, clearly still the junior partner in their relationship: less loved, less able to exude charisma. It was also agonisingly evident that many Democrats would so much rather ‘no-drama Obama’ were still in charge.
— Chris Stigall (@ChrisStigall) April 6, 2022
This is - without peer - the most humiliating, emasculating thing I’ve ever watched. Obama and Harris literally ignore Joe Biden today at the White House. It’s not that we don’t understand Biden is weak and was never in charge. This is just the painful, visual proof. pic.twitter.com/Z6EEGMoa3N
The Democratic party knows deep down that the Joe can’t go on. With inflation rampant and a cost-of-living crisis underway, Biden’s job approval ratings are now around 40 per cent. A staggering 71 per cent of Americans think their country is on the ‘wrong track’.
Biden is leading his party towards a humiliating defeat in the mid-term elections in November. The Democrats seem increasingly certain to lose the House of Representatives and the Senate. Biden could, in theory, do what Obama did in his first term: turn mid-term defeat into re-election triumph two years later. But, as last week proved, Biden is no Obama. He’s a 79-year-old disaster.
In his recent trip to Europe to address the Ukraine crisis, Biden’s succession of gaffes culminated in his accidental call for regime change in Moscow. ‘For God’s sake this man cannot remain in power,’ he said. Was he, at some unconscious level, really talking about himself?
Many Democrats now think he must go – though few dare to say as much out loud. But they are stuck. How can they carry out their own ‘regime change’ without trashing their integrity as a party? The original plan, never publicised but acknowledged by Washington insiders and occasionally (albeit accidentally) by Biden himself, was that the 46th President would be a ‘placeholder’; Biden would gracefully make way for Kamala Harris, his Vice President, by 2024.
But, as everybody now knows, Harris is even less popular than the current President and similarly gaffe-prone. Polls suggest that, in a likely presidential election matchup against Donald Trump, she would perform far worse than Biden. A more immediate issue is that it’s not clear that Biden, a scrappy character who grows more stubborn as his faculties diminish, now shows no signs that he intends to stand down as a failure before 2024. He may need to be shoved.
Having spent four years trying to impeach Donald Trump, the Democrats therefore find themselves in the awkward position of having to remove their own dear leader.
There’s talk of invoking the 25th amendment, a clause in the constitution that could enable Vice President Harris to oust her boss on the grounds that he is not physically or mentally able to do the job. But that would mean admitting that the Trumpist attack machine was right all along when it claimed that Biden was never fit to lead the free world. It would also mean further empowering Kamala, which nobody apart from Kamala thinks is a good idea.
Another break-glass-in-case-of-disastrous-presidency option may present itself, however, in the sorry form of Hunter Biden, Joe’s errant son. Hunter, a recovering drug addict, has always been the horror PR bomb waiting to blow up his father’s career.
His infamous laptop, which was discovered in the run-up to the presidential election of 2020, contains easily enough salacious material to trash the Biden family name forever. The videos of Hunter smoking crack – despite his father’s prominent role as an enforcer of America’s ‘war on drugs’ in the 1990s – and having orgies with prostitutes are hellish manna from tabloid heaven. But those aren’t bad enough to bring down Joe, Hunter’s loving and long-suffering father.
The more explosive element could be Hunter’s emails, which show him using his father’s influence as the then Vice President as leverage in his extremely suspicious business dealings. They also show that Joe’s brother Jim was intimately involved in the various attempts to make lots of money using the Biden family name. The documents suggest not only that Biden was aware of his son’s activities, but that he may have been involved in them, too
The most notorious email is about a $10 million deal with a Chinese company, in which an associate of the Bidens suggest how the equity from the arrangement might be distributed in percentages, including 20 for ‘H’ (almost certainly Hunter), 10 for ‘Jim’ (Jim Biden) and ’10 held by H for the big guy.’
Is the ‘big guy’ Joe Biden? Biden has always insisted he had nothing to do with Hunter’s private work. But the question won’t go away. Until recently, these grubby details were mostly brushed aside as right-wing scuttlebutt or toxic fake news.
In the run-up to the election, various intelligence officials and the larger pro-Democratic news organisations dismissed the laptop evidence as a classic Russian disinformation operation. In an extraordinary demonstration of their power to control the flow of information, Twitter and Facebook censored and suppressed links to the story from their platforms.
But nobody ever proved it wasn’t true. Now, intriguingly, as President Biden flounders, the New York Times and the Washington Post, two loyally pro-Democratic papers, have begun publishing extensive reports on a federal investigation into Hunter Biden’s tax affairs and his lobbying efforts.
Both newspapers have now confirmed that the notorious laptop emails are real. What’s strange is that other credible reporters had validated the emails more than a year ago, but the Democratic establishment largely ignored them because they tended to work for pro-Republican media groups and were therefore deemed untrustworthy.
As the Hunter Biden investigation develops, however, and worthy liberal newspapers suddenly take the allegations against the Biden family seriously, ruthless figures at the top of the Democratic party might see an opportunity to push their problematic president towards his much-needed retirement.
Any detailed look at the Bidens’ family history shows them to be a less glamorous version of the Kennedys: an Irish-American Catholic clan determined to get ahead but often hurt by terrible tragedy. Biden lost his wife and daughter in a car accident. His son Beau, an aspiring politician, died of brain cancer. Like the Kennedys, too, a whiff of corruption has always dogged the Bidens’ otherwise heroic and very American family story.
‘The big difference is that the Kennedys made their money before going into politics,’ says Ben Schreckinger, author of The Bidens: Inside the First Family’s 50-year-rise to power. ‘The Bidens made their money after, and that has raised some thorny issues.’ The question is whether that thorniness will now be used to get a failing President out of the way in time for 2024.