Joe Biden has been criticized as a man who could too-often go off-script.
You could make a case that his entire career in gaffery could be summed up with his infamous 2006 comment to an Indian-American supporter: “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”
If that won’t suffice, a highlights reel from this year’s Democratic debates will do, so long as the clip where he talks about eliminating systemic racism by leaving the record player on for children at night plays at least twice.
And even though it wasn’t delivered during the debates, no highlight reel of the 2020 election cycle would be complete without a clip of Biden saying that “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids” during a speech in Iowa last August.
After all these years, that’s changed. As the presidential race nears, Biden is a man who’s very deliberately on-script. Or, using a word the Democratic candidate himself is fond of using when he shouldn’t, Biden is literally on-script.
The problem is that, Biden being Biden, he can still read from the wrong part of the script.
On Wednesday, a clip of an interview Biden gave to Miami’s WTVJ-TV was posted by the station. It dealt with his answer to curbing the twin pillars of socialism — Cuba and Venezuela — in Latin America.
South Florida is home to large communities of Cuban- and Venezuelan-Americans, neither of which view the Obama administration’s policies toward either country with unmixed delight.
It wasn’t the content of Biden’s answer that was the problem. It wasn’t terribly good in my opinion, mind you; Biden said “Trump’s incoherent approach has alienated international partners, undermined the cause of democracy and his policy has failed to eliminate human suffering for millions of Venezuelans,” offering scant details for any of this or how his administration would do things differently.
Here’s what Biden had to say before this, however:
Oops! Joe Biden read the "topline message" part of the talking points his handlers gave him for a TV interview.
He apparently couldn't remember it on his own. pic.twitter.com/0iGG83FZKA
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) September 2, 2020
“Look, Venezuela top line messages.” Yes, he really said the part of the talking points on the teleprompter that was supposed to denote what he was supposed to say.
He was quite literally saying the quiet part out loud. To quote Ron Burgundy, another famous (albeit fictional) individual given to reading anything fed to him on a teleprompter: “I’m not even mad. That’s amazing.”
Tim Murtaugh, President Trump’s 2020 campaign communications director, noted how bad this looked in a tweet.
Biden read the words “Venezuela Top Line Messages” from his talking points on the teleprompter.
In a TV interview, he actually read the title of the talking points out loud.
Any questions about why he’s been kept in the basement by his handlers? https://t.co/S5kU6bZt8N
— Tim Murtaugh – Download the Trump 2020 app today! (@TimMurtaugh) September 2, 2020
“In a TV interview, he actually read the title of the talking points out loud,” Murtaugh tweeted.
“Any questions about why he’s been kept in the basement by his handlers?”
Of course, this kind of thing isn’t new for the Democratic nominee.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper last Thursday, the CNN anchor was nice enough not to mention Biden was clearly looking off-screen every time he gave an answer, presumably not to check baseball scores:
Joe Biden is clearly reading from a script while struggling to get through this interview with Anderson Cooper pic.twitter.com/PsD7vBLIik
— Tristan Justice (@JusticeTristan) August 27, 2020
Here he is in May during a live stream, clearly looking lost before telling someone off-screen to “put that back on.”
Joe Biden is totally LOST without a teleprompter.
Here he is fumbling around, trying to think, before finally asking staff to "put that back on." pic.twitter.com/fHslgB31CN
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) May 27, 2020
I’m not sure what “that” was from context or why it needed to be “put … back on,” but we can venture a guess.
And then there was this touching moment, also from August:
“I am calling you today … There are three reasons."
Joe Biden needed a script to understand why his handlers chose Phony Kamala Harris to be his VP. pic.twitter.com/uXoNksMNAo
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) August 11, 2020
Everyone wants to be told they’ll be on the Democratic ticket from a script clearly visible in front of the MacBook here because the top-line of the ticket either can’t be bothered to make the pitch to you extemporaneously or simply can’t make it extemporaneously.
I understand that every word from President Trump’s interviews will be pored over as if they were hieroglyphs on ancient papyrus. I also understand many of them are infelicitous.
This is an election year and that kind of scrutiny is the role of an active and functioning media.
However, when Joe Biden can read the title to his talking points off of the teleprompter during a TV interview and it hasn’t gotten a whit of coverage — particularly given Biden’s diminishing returns in the cognitive department are a major issue this campaign — that’s where the dysfunction seeps into the system.
Whatever the case, it’s clear that Joe Biden is out of the basement for good post-convention. How much handlers can keep him away from situations like this is another question entirely.
He may be on-script now, but he’s still Joe Biden.