“There are people out there who believe Biden’s age isn’t an insurmountable problem—and that Trump is bang on about NATO.” (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP via Getty Images)

In Defense of Biden and Trump

The presidential candidates have had a bad week. We steelman the case for both.

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Neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump have had a great week. 

Recent headlines—about the president’s age (81), and his predecessor’s freewheeling approach to foreign policy (saying Russia should “do whatever the hell they want” with freeloading members of NATO)—trigger our worst fears about the two men we’ll likely be forced to choose between come November 5. I know they do for me.

But there are people out there who believe Biden’s age isn’t an insurmountable problem—and that Trump is bang on about NATO. 

Today, we bring you two people brave enough to make these arguments to you.

Up first: Matt Bennett on Biden’s age. 

Matt is a moderate Democratic strategist who worked in Bill Clinton’s White House and today runs Third Way, a think tank in Washington, D.C. 

While many Democrats have been in full freak-out mode since last Thursday’s Justice Department report painted a scathing picture of Biden’s mental faculties—calling him “an elderly man with a poor memory”—Matt is sleeping just fine. 

Here, he explains why the age issue isn’t a problem—and why he’s confident the American people will give Biden another four years in the White House.

Voters are undoubtedly worried about Biden’s age, but by the time we get to November, it will be a choice between two old men. And let’s face it: they are both very old. They are just three years apart. And the question is—what has age meant for them? For Joe Biden it has meant he looks older, he’s slowed down, and he occasionally forgets things. But it has also meant deep experience, wisdom, and empathy. Whereas for Trump it has meant the opposite—a chaotic, angry nastiness that is overwhelmingly evident in everything he does. 

Remember: incumbent presidents generally win, especially when they’ve done a good job. And Joe Biden has done a very good job. His achievements are starting to make themselves felt even in the lives of people who don’t pay attention to politics. 

The economy is incredibly strong, inflation is easing, and while things have been difficult for people, the future is very bright. The misery index, which is a combination of unemployment and inflation, is projected by Goldman Sachs to be the lowest on record this year. Any president running with these economic numbers has a very good chance of getting reelected. 

In the meantime, Democrats need to let go of the idea that there’s some better alternative to Joe Biden out there. Whether he steps aside is up to him and him alone—and there’s zero evidence that he wants to. And while a last-minute change would be good news for political journalists, it would be bad news for Democrats: a chaotic spectacle that would generate hard feelings on the part of the losers and their supporters. 

One very heartening thing for Democrats at the moment is that, apart from one gadfly congressman from Minnesota challenging Biden in the primary, everyone in Democratic politics is united behind the president. And the last seven days have not changed that.

If you lean right, we suspect you are ready to throw your phone across the room. But wait! Now it’s time to hear the other side of things. Donald Trump triggered global uproar over the weekend when, at a rally in South Carolina, he said that he once warned NATO allies that he’d advise Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” if alliance members failed to meet their defense spending target of 2 percent of their countries’ GDP. 

Biden called the comments “un-American,” and many agreed Trump’s remarks were a sign he cannot be expected to defend some of America’s closest allies. 

But here, Elbridge Colby, the author of The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict who helped devise the Trump administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy, explains why the ex-president’s position on NATO is completely right.

The fact of the matter is that Russia under Vladimir Putin is a very dangerous state. It has embarked on an evil invasion of Ukraine. And it is reverting large sectors of its economy to military production. The United States cannot simultaneously take the lead in dealing with that real threat from Russia in Europe while also preparing for the very real possibility of confrontation with China in the Pacific, let alone get into a large war in the Middle East. 

China is a far stronger power than Russia; Asia is a larger and more rapidly growing part of the global economy than Europe; and the United States does not have a military that is capable of fighting multiple large wars at the same time. The United States needs to prioritize its military effort on China and Asia. 

If that leaves a gap in Europe, the solution is not to wail and gnash teeth, but rather for NATO members to get sober and serious about meeting their commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense—if not more. As General Christopher G. Cavoli, the NATO commander, has pointed out, that 2 percent is supposed to be a floor—not a ceiling. 

The fact that the Americans have been carrying a disproportionate degree of the burden is unsustainable. And anybody who is pretending otherwise is ultimately harming European defense. So those of us who are saying “Europe, you need to do more” are keeping Europe safer than those who refuse to acknowledge reality. 

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor at The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman