Republicans Try To Raise Expectations On Biden By Claiming He's On Drugs

Joe Biden

President Joe Biden

Photo by Gage Skidmore/ CC BY-SA 2.0

The right-wing media strategy of branding President Joe Biden as senile has always suffered from the major flaw that his public performance in major moments bears no resemblance to his depiction on Fox News and other Trumpist outlets.

But with the president’s first debate with Donald Trump of the cycle looming on Thursday, the network’s hosts are building a rhetorical escape hatch in case Biden’s presentation once again exceeds the low expectations they’ve set for him: They’re claiming that before the event, Biden may take performance-enhancing drugs that conceal his cognitive decline.

The right has baselessly pushed this conspiracy theory — for which no evidence has ever emerged — since at least 2020, when Trump tweeted that “only drugs” could explain Biden’s energetic performances in the Democratic primary debates. The narrative escalated earlier this year when right-wing influencers needed to concoct an explanation for Biden’s strong delivery of his State of the Union address. And it has reemerged as one of their preferred narratives in the lead-up to Thursday’s debate.

“The Joe Biden we’re talking about tonight I don’t think will be the Joe Biden we’re going to see on debate night,” Sean Hannity, a Trump political operative who also hosts a prime-time Fox show, told Lara Trump, the Republican National Committee co-chair and daughter-in-law to the former president, on June 17. Hannity added that Biden would be “hyper-caffeinated” and said he supports the idea of drug-testing the candidates before the debate.

Hannity returned to the narrative all week long. He claimed Biden would be “jacked up” on “a lot of Red Bull, a lot of caffeine pills, whatever” to hide the “cognitive decline” which he called “obvious and troubling.” Those substances, Hannity asserted, would explain why Biden would be “screaming” and aggressive at the debate rather than “mumbling, bumbling, stumbling, and fumbling” and confused, as he is in the out-of-context video clips the host regularly shows his audience.

Hannity isn’t alone. Last week, Fox contributors Tyrus and Newt Gingrich both pushed the notion that Biden is using drugs. So did Trump adviser Stephen Miller and Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo’s panel.

On Donald Trump Jr.’s show Triggered, Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) suggested Biden would be on a “cocktail” before the debate which could include “amphetamine-type drugs like Adderall and things of that nature” as well as “things like Provigil, you know, that also just increase your alertness.” He reiterated his claims in a Fox Business interview over the weekend, demanding that the president “submit to a drug test before and after this debate, specifically looking for performance-enhancing drugs.” (Notably, Jackson’s medical operation as White House physician reportedly functioned as a pill mill for Trump White House staffers).

“Biden always performs better than expected on big nights,” Fox host Jesse Watters said on Friday. “It could be that he’s well-rested, studies hard. Or maybe it’s whatever’s in that orange drink. What is in that orange drink?” (Biden says his “favorite drink is orange Gatorade,” and numerous media outlets have reported that he drinks it regularly as president.)

Trump himself has repeatedly gotten into the act on the campaign trail. “He’s gonna be so pumped up. He’s gonna be pumped up,” said the former president at a Wednesday rally, before suggesting that Biden uses cocaine. He claimed on Saturday that Biden would get “a shot in the ass” before the debate and come out all “jacked up.”

In addition to lacking anything resembling evidence, this argument doesn’t make much sense — if Biden is mentally disabled but has access to medication that somehow hides it, why would he save the drugs for special occasions rather than taking them all the time? But Trump and his supporters set a trap for themselves with their deceptive claims of Biden’s purported senility and they are desperately trying to escape.

Tucker Carlson grappled with that problem following 2020’s first presidential debate.

“The main thing we learned last night is that it was a mistake to spend so much time focusing on Joe Biden’s mental decline,” the then-Fox star said at the top of his show the next night.

Carlson insisted that Fox’s coverage showed that “Joe Biden is fading,” but he acknowledged that “on stage last night, Biden did not seem senile. If you tuned in expecting him to forget his own name — and honestly, we did expect that — you may have been surprised by how precise some of his answers were.”

But Fox didn’t bother adjusting after its “Biden’s mental decline” narrative failed under the spotlight. Instead, its hosts have spent the four years since Carlson’s admission relentlessly bombarding their viewers with misleading, decontextualized snippets of video that they claim prove Biden is a dementia patient. That effort escalated in recent weeks as the Trumpist propaganda network promoted a series of “cheap fake” clips from Biden’s appearance at the G7 summit.

But Thursday’s debate creates the risk of repeating the error Carlson had highlighted, setting the expectations for Biden so low that he can clear them simply by not wandering off the stage. The right’s apparent solution is to make stuff up.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

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