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RICH LOWRY: The elderly man with a poor memory

Joe Biden is the first official ever to be cleared by a special counsel for reasons of mental incompetence. The president might have been better off if special counsel Robert Hur, investigating his mishandling of classified documents, had simply recommended indicting him instead of spelling out why a jury would not convict someone so clearly out of it.

Hur wrote “that, at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” Who doesn’t like sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly men with poor memories?

The Hur report’s damning account of Biden’s acuity isn’t surprising for anyone who’s been watching the president’s public performance. Just in the past couple of days he’s twice mixed up the names of current European leaders with their predecessors from the 1980s and ’90s, both of whom have been dead for years. Yet the report is valuable insofar as it represents a faithful, nonpartisan account of how Joe Biden is for extended periods in private.

White House aides aren’t going to be honest about this; indeed, it is their job to lie about it. Karine Jean-Pierre, Biden’s 49-year-old press secretary, has said she has trouble keeping up with the president, who is 30 years her senior and whose schedule is severely limited in keeping with his reduced energy and capacities. If she can’t keep up with him, she needs to see a doctor herself.

According to Hur, Biden “did not remember when he was vice president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended (‘if it was 2013, when did I stop being vice president?’), and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term began (‘in 2009, am I still vice president?’).” These aren’t exactly trick questions.

Sadly, Biden “did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died.” He also was fuzzy on the internal debate over President Barack Obama’s surge of troops to Afghanistan that he was a vigorous participant in.

The Hur report underlines one of Biden’s chief political vulnerabilities. Polling shows that a super majority doesn’t believe he has the stamina or acuity to serve another four years. If anything, those numbers might go higher. Biden wants to run a campaign based on disqualifying the other guy, but that requires being minimally acceptable yourself.

The great advantage that Donald Trump has isn’t that he’s youthful — at 77 years old, he’s emphatically not — but that he projects a vigor and a sense of being in command that younger politicians can’t match. Just ask Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley.

It’s not Joe Biden’s fault that he’s old and in decline. What’s blameworthy is that he and his wife Jill haven’t had the good sense, as far as we know, to acknowledge what is happening to him. The right thing to do would have been to take a hard look at this sometime last year and decide to spare Biden the humiliation, and the country the potential crisis, of running him again when he’s not up for it.

If Biden had stood down then, he’d look like a wise, public-spirited statesman, and he’d have given his party the chance to run a proper primary. It’s too late for that. No matter how bad the Hur report is for Biden, there is almost certainly worse to come.

Rich Lowry is on X @RichLowry.

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