Opinion – Bill Straub: Despite Reagan example, if Biden stays in race let’s hope he’s right

It’s been almost 40 years since President Ronald Reagan, seeking a second term, ventured to Louisville to engage in a presidential debate with his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Walter Mondale.

And old Dutch got his clock cleaned.

Reagan was a sputtering, unfocused, bewildered mess during the 90-minute exchange at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 7, 1984, raising doubts that the 73-year-old actor retained the wherewithal and mental capacity to continue leading the nation.

A ton was written about Reagan’s perceived infirmities and the race, which had long tilted in Reagan’s favor, tightened as voters reconsidered re-electing a president who had obviously slowed on the draw.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

“The overall impression of Reagan is that he was oddly disoriented and confused with regard to many of the subjects,” Darrell Scott, then a debate coach at Gonzaga University, told United Press International.

In an event after the debate, Reagan introduced the gathered crowd to a Republican he very much wanted to see elected to the U.S. Senate from Kentucky – “Mitch O’Donnell.”

That, of course, would be Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who has now held that position for a record number of years.

Regardless, Reagan, of course, wound up capturing 49 states on Election Day, collecting better than 58 percent of the vote.

Supporters of President Biden, who stumbled through his own dreadful debate performance last week with Republican challenger Donald J. Trump, himself a former president, may take solace with the outcome of the ultimate Reagan-Mondale outcome, noting, for instance, that post-debate polls thus far do not show any significant shift one way or the other as a result.

That’s whistling past the graveyard. Biden desperately needed a decent debate performance to show doubters that he is capable of running the show for another four years. He entered the exchange behind in almost every legitimate poll – with an acknowledgment that the polling science ain’t what it used to be — and blew any opportunity to attract undecideds required to help him play catch up.

Despite the concerns over his age, Reagan was eight years younger than Biden when he participated in the Louisville debate. On Oct. 1, 1984, according to a Gallup Poll, Reagan carried the approval of 54 percent of those questioned. The same polling firm placed Biden’s approval at 38 percent as of June 23. And while Reagan’s doddering performance opened the door to Mondale to pull within seven points before they sprung the trap, the 585 polling average shows Trump ahead of the incumbent president 42.1-39.8. Two polls, CBS News and You Gov, place Trump at 50 percent or above, a chilling testament to Biden. Poll averages show Trump ahead – barely in some cases and some of the surveys lean Republican – in all seven battleground states – Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and Wisconsin.

To put it bluntly, Reagan had the means of surviving a bad debate performance while it’s becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a scenario where Biden pulls out of this tailspin. He entered the campaign season and the debate under the general public perception that he was too old for the job and that by the time in left office in January 2029 – should he prove victorious – he would be 86. He had an opportunity to place voter concerns at ease and perhaps pick up some support with a respectable debate showing. Instead, he walked out on the stage like Abe Simpson, Methuselah in a dark blue suit.

The point shouldn’t be he didn’t lose any ground. It should be that, handed an opportunity on a silver platter at a stage in the campaign where he had to build up some momentum, he utterly failed to bolster or broaden his support. He is perceived to be like the name of Jerry Garcia’s Bluegrass band – Old and In the Way. And in elections like this perception could mean everything. That image is now embedded.

Biden has one card to play and it’s a hard sell – you think I’m bad, wait til you get a load of the other guy.

In a rational nation it would be impossible to conceive of Donald James Trump even being allowed to peer in the general direction of the White House. He is a rapist, a pathological liar, a cheat who refuses to pay his bills, a man who enriched himself and his family during his time in office and instigated an insurrection against the United States in an effort to retain the presidency. He was found guilty on 34 felony counts in a New York state court of falsifying business records to gain a political advantage.

This is not opinion. These are facts.

He’s no spring chicken – Trump is 78, five years older than Reagan was when he ran for re-election. And he is exhibiting just as many signs of cognitive decline as Biden.

Yet it is impossible to find an American politician with a more devoted following than Donald Trump. More than 70 million voted for him in 2024 and they’re gearing up to give him a boost once again in November.

It could be that Biden’s lone chance of remaining at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue could center on convincing voters that settling on an octogenarian who’s slower than he used to be is preferable to turning the keys over to a madman/convict.

Yet, in an odd way, Biden might have just picked up some support for such an approach from an unexpected source – the Supreme Court.

In a 6-3 decision, with the panel’s unbound right-wingers in the majority, the court shockingly granted ex-presidents broad immunity from criminal prosecution for actions taken during their time in office.

The case is styled Trump v. United States and was initiated by the Lord of Mar-a-Lago himself as a backdoor maneuver to avoid the many felony claims that have been pressed against him. The majority included three justices that Trump appointed – Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and, in a separate concurring opinion, Amy Coney Barrett.

It very likely is the worst Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott, essentially providing the erstwhile grifter-in-chief with a “Get out of jail free” card, giving the lie to the notion that all people are equal under the law. To paraphrase Orwell, we now find that all men and women are created equal, but some are more equal than others.

It is a catastrophic, unbelievably political decision that essentially benefits one person in the entire world – Donald J. Trump – since none of the other existing former presidents are facing any criminal charges of any kind.

The court essentially organized by McConnell keeps sinking lower and lower. So, of course, the sycophants in the Kentucky congressional delegation – schlubs like Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, and Rep. Jamie Comer, R-TheFrankfortLoop, have embraced this sickening interpretation of the law.

Writing on X, Barr called the decision a “monumental affirmation of the constitutional protections for the presidency.”

“This ruling is a resounding victory for the rule of law and ensures that no president can be unfairly prosecuted for executing their official duties,” he said.. “It’s a win for justice and a clear message that political witch hunts have no place in our democracy.”

What a dope.

What about the constitutional protections for a public that suffers from a president’s criminal acts? And how is it a “win for justice” making a president a king?

Biden can now, at least, use the decision as a cautionary tale. Trump, should he prove victorious in November, will be free, like an old Russian tsar, to instigate a 21st Century Reign of Terror, using the Justice Department to prosecute his political enemies, taking payoffs from oil companies to poison the environment, using the emoluments clause like toilet paper.

Biden has emphatically dismissed any call to drop out of the race, telling his campaign staff on Wednesday, “I’m the nominee of the Democratic Party. No one’s pushing me out. I’m not leaving. I’m in this race to the end, and we’re going to win because when Democrats unite, we always win.”

That said, considering the dire consequences of a Trump coronation, Biden’s decision to remain in the race had better be right. If he doesn’t win history will have a field day.

One thought on “Opinion – Bill Straub: Despite Reagan example, if Biden stays in race let’s hope he’s right

  1. Anyone that can still support Biden after three and one half years of his policies is totally out of touch with reality . A reasonable middle f the road voter is appalled by his record as well as his debate performance. He has been fully exposed as incompetent, declining, person that needs to be replaced. It’s been rumored that the situation chaotic for years, but is was covered up by the liberal media, well now the truth has been exposed for all to see the emperor has no clothes.

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