As Joe Biden has emerged as front runner in a crowded field of Democrats for the 2020 presidential election, Team Trump has been beating the bushes for all the dirt they can find. Cockburn hears of jubilation in the White House that there has been so much to find and a new confidence that victory could be possible despite Trump’s often expressed fear that Biden is the only real challenger who could defeat him.
Over the next few months, the playbook will attempt to tarnish the image of the man Trump calls ‘Sleepy Joe’ and who friends and former colleagues know as a supremely dysfunctional man at home and work. Trump’s investigators will be rolling out this new narrative over the next few weeks as a series of tweets, leaks, and briefings designed to portray Biden as unfit for office.
The Biden dossier includes stories from his time as a senator and as the vice president in the Obama administration. In both roles, former colleagues recall how his dyslexia and laziness prevented him from ever reading the briefs prepared for him. Combined with his appetite for telling folksy stories about his Irish heritage, this meant for embarrassment with foreign leaders and enormous frustration among his staff.
President Obama was obsessed with detail and would pepper his staff with endless questions while Biden was content with a skimming of the brief for a foreign trip. He never arrived overseas with more than a very superficial understanding of the issues involved, preferring instead to rely on the colorful anecdote or family story. In this respect, Biden is a mirror of the president: Trump’s own staff claim that they have never known their president to ever read a brief prepared for him or to listen to any detailed presentation. Instead, he remains chronically – even childishly – ignorant of any substantive details on any issue.
Biden has worked hard over the years to burnish his image as a caring father and patriarch of a loving family. On the surface, the family story is one that should resonate with voters. In 1972, Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and only sister Naomi were killed in a car crash. Then his elder son Beau, a lawyer and decorated war hero who served in Iraq, died of brain cancer in 2015. While the loss was obviously traumatic, Biden tearfully recounts the story of his loss at every opportunity.
What he never talks about are the struggles his younger son, Hunter, has had with his addictions to cocaine and alcohol. He was kicked out of the Navy reserves seven years ago after traces of cocaine were found during a random drug test. In an additional wrinkle, Hunter has had a lengthy affair with his brother’s widow, Hallie. Biden has been in and out of rehab but has recently relapsed once again. He claims to have ended the affair with Hallie as a way of insulating his father against attacks by Team Trump but friends say the relationship is ongoing.
Team Trump believes that Biden is especially vulnerable to criticisms of Hunter and will be leaking stories not just about the addiction and the affair but also alleged profiteering in Hunter’s relations with Ukraine and China. If the attacks are sufficiently provocative, Trump’s acolytes hope that Biden will publicly melt down and tarnish his image as the easygoing everyman.
Despite all this seedy drama, it’s going to be tough for Trump himself to engage in any morality attacks against Biden given his own lengthy record of infidelity and paying off various mistresses. Instead, Trump will concentrate on Biden’s seeming inability to focus and his appetite for telling endless stories about his (unproven) Irish heritage. The president will leave the more scurrilous attacks to the surrogates who are lining up for the mission in the hope for a decent payoff in the next Trump administration.
Trump’s are anticipating the dirtiest presidential campaign in American history. The Trump staff were exhilarated by their doctoring of a video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that made her appear drunk. To target Biden, they may not even need ‘deepfake’ videos. Biden is fond of greeting women friends and acquaintances with a lingering hug where his arms and hands remain in place for much longer than appropriate. In the age of zero tolerance for any form of sexual harassment, such exuberance provides multiple opportunities to portray Biden as a groper in cleverly edited videos which Trump will tweet enthusiastically.