David Axelrod is not a prick.
I’ve known him since 2007 and if I had to pick a noun to describe him, it would be mensch.
So when President Biden privately employs that epithet for Axelrod, according to Politico’s Jonathan Martin, it’s bad for a few reasons.
The ordinarily gracious president is punching down at the strategist who helped elevate him onto the ticket with Barack Obama in 2008 and who thinks he was “a great vice president” and has done a lot of wonderful things as president.
When some in the Obama camp chattered in 2011 about switching Biden out for Hillary Clinton, Axelrod said, he protested: “That would be an incredible act of disloyalty to a guy who has done a great job for us.”
Surely, Mr. Biden does not want to lower himself to the vulgarity of the growling, brawling, thieving Republicans in the Hieronymus Bosch hellscape of our Congress.
(As Seth Meyers noted, George Santos — who spent campaign money on Hermès, Ferragamo, Botox, Sephora and OnlyFans — had “the shopping list of a 98-year-old oil tycoon’s 20-year-old wife.”)
Axelrod drew Biden’s ire because he urged the president to consider stopping at one term, throwing open the race to younger Democrats while there’s still time, and leaving as a hero. He said that, despite Biden’s insult, he got a slew of messages agreeing with him.
“I don’t care about them thinking I’m a prick — that’s fine,” the strategist told me. “I hope they don’t think the polls are wrong because they’re not.”
According to a New York Times/Siena College poll, Donald Trump is ahead in five battleground states and, as some other surveys have found, is even making inroads among Black voters and young voters. There’s a generational fracture in the Democratic Party over the Israeli-Hamas horror and Biden’s age. Third-party spoilers are circling.
The president turns 81 on Monday; the Oval hollows out its occupants quickly, and Biden is dealing with two world-shattering wars, chaos at the border, a riven party and a roiling country.
“I think he has a 50-50 shot here, but no better than that, maybe a little worse,” Axelrod said. “He thinks he can cheat nature here and it’s really risky. They’ve got a real problem if they’re counting on Trump to win it for them. I remember Hillary doing that, too.”
The president’s flash of anger indicates that he may be in denial, surrounded by enablers who are sugarcoating a grim political forecast.
Like other pols, Biden has a healthy ego and like all presidents, he’s truculent about not getting the credit he thinks he deserves for his accomplishments. And it must be infuriating that most of the age qualms are about him, when Trump is only a few years younger.
No doubt the president is having a hard time wrapping his mind around the idea that the 77-year-old Mar-a-Lago Dracula has risen from his gilded coffin even though he’s albatrossed with legal woes and seems more deranged than ever, referring to Democrats with the fascist-favored term “vermin” and plotting a second-term revengefest. Trump’s campaign slogan should be, “There will be blood.”
For Biden, this is about his identity. It’s what he has fought all his life for, even battling his way through “friendly fire,” as Hunter Biden told me, in the Obama White House, when some Obama aides undermined him. It must have been awful when Obama took his vice president to lunch and nudged him aside for Hillary to run in 2016. Biden craves the affirmation of being re-elected. He doesn’t want to look like a guy who’s been driven from office.
But he should not indulge the Irish chip on his shoulder. He needs to gather the sharpest minds in his party and hear what they have to say, not engage in petty feuds.
If Trump manages to escape conviction in Jack Smith’s Washington case, which may be the only criminal trial that ends before the election, that’s going to turbocharge his campaign. Of course, if he’s convicted, that could turbocharge his campaign even more.
It’s a perfect playing field for the maleficent Trump: He learned in the 2016 race that physical and rhetorical violence could rev up his base. He told me at the time it helped get him to No. 1 and he said he found violence at his rallies exciting.
He has no idea why making fun of Paul Pelosi’s injuries at the hands of one of his acolytes is subhuman, any more than he understood how repellent it was in 2015 when he mocked a disabled Times reporter. He gets barbaric laughs somehow, and that’s all he cares about. In an interview with Jonathan Karl, Trump gloated about how his audience on Jan. 6 was “the biggest crowd I’ve ever spoken in front of by far.”
Never mind that it was one of the most dangerous, shameful days in our history. To Trump, it was glorious.
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