Which is exactly what Trump did during the daily coronavirus briefing from the White House on Wednesday. Asked about Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders dropping out of the Democratic presidential race, leaving former Vice President Joe Biden as the de facto Democratic nominee, Trump said this (bolding is mine):
“You know what? I’ll tell you, it does amaze me that President Obama hasn’t supported Sleepy Joe. It just hasn’t happened. When is it going to happen? When is it going to happen? Why isn’t he? He knows something that you don’t know, that I think I know, but you don’t know. So it’ll be interesting.”
So, according to Trump, former President Barack Obama has held off on endorsing his vice president for president because “he knows something that you don’t know, that I think I know, but you don’t know.”
Which is, of course, patently ridiculous. The idea that Trump possesses some sort of secret knowledge about Obama’s reasons for staying out of the 2020 Democratic presidential race to date assumes that Obama — or someone close to the former president — has confided this “secret” to Trump or someone close to him. There’s a 0% chance that happened.
Returning to planet Earth for a minute, this is how Obama has publicly explained his neutral stance in the race:
“I am confident that at the end of the process we will have a candidate who has been tested and will be able to proudly carry the Democratic banner, and we are going to have to unify around that.”
That was one of the few comments Obama made about the race, choosing to avoid even the appearance that he had his finger on the scale for any of the many candidates. (Obama did warn, however, that the candidates needed to remember that voters were “less revolutionary than … interested in improvement.”)
It’s also worth remembering that Obama stayed out of 2016, which featured his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, until the summer — when the primary process had formally concluded.
So it’s not terribly surprising that in early April Obama hadn’t endorsed Biden — especially since Sanders just left the race on Wednesday. If, in three months time, Obama is still on the sidelines, that’s a story. But, there’s no chance he will be.
Of course, Trump knows all of this. (“I’m sure he’s got to come out at some point because he certainly doesn’t want to see me for four more years,” Trump said of Obama at another moment of the press briefing on Wednesday.) And he doesn’t care.
Trump’s goal here is simple: Use Obama’s lack of a Biden endorsement as a way to suggest that there is something bigger and more nefarious going on with Biden. That “something” is wrong.
It doesn’t take a genius to see what Trump is getting at. All you need to do is watch conservative media for a few minutes to get it. Here’s Tucker Carlson from his show last night:
“Ask yourself, is Joe Biden ready to lead this country? Could he find his car in a three-tiered parking garage? Could he navigate a salad bar? And by the way, what exactly is his position on the Coronavirus pandemic? Those are the mysteries Democrats now face.”
The not-so-subtle suggestion is that Biden isn’t all there mentally. Trump himself has been even more blunt in pushing this idea. At a rally in North Carolina in early March, he told the crowd this:
“Sleepy Joe. He doesn’t even know where he is or what he’s doing or what office he’s running for. Honestly, I don’t think he knows what office he’s running for. … They’re going to put him into a home, and other people are going to be running the country. … They’re going to be super-left, radical crazies. And Joe’s going to be in a home and he’ll be watching television.”
What proof does Trump have to make such a major charge? That Biden occasionally misspeaks? Or struggles to find a word? Or says something he probably shouldn’t? Those have been Biden trademarks for the better part of the last four decades he has spent in public life.
But Trump’s not trying to prove anything. He knows that, for many of his supporters, he doesn’t have to. All he has to do is float the idea that there’s “something” wrong with Biden — and then watch while his surrogates and supporters spread that message relentlessly between now and November.
It’s a deeply irresponsible tactic for anyone to adopt. But especially for the President, who, in theory, should know better.