The Trumpsters are hanging on to threads of hope that somehow, some way, they will pull off a November surprise and win re-election for the big guy. And Joe Biden, try as he might to avoid his usual goofiness -- make that his gaffe-iness -- has unraveled one of those verbal threads that Donald Trump hopes to climb.
Biden lived up to his reputation, or down to his reputation, for habitually uttering self-damaging ... what does he call it? ... malarkey at the most inopportune times.
It happened in the final debate. Perhaps Uncle Joe was rattled by the fact that Trump was not engaging in the kind of obnoxious conduct that he had the last time around. This time, Trump was acting appropriately, at least by his standards. Biden was the one who provided an opening.
At the debate, candidate Trump was badgering candidate Biden about his oft-repeated statements that he’d ultimately replace polluting sources of energy like oil. “I would transition from the oil industry, yes,” said Biden. His campaign staffers could only slap their foreheads and cringe as Trump jumped all over that one: “Biden said,” Trump nearly squealed in delight, “’We want to phase it out.’ I said, ‘Thank you.’ Texas, are you watching? Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio, are you watching?”
Uncle Joe realized that he had stepped in it. The moment the debate ended he clarified, which is another way of saying unstepping from the doo-doo: “We’re not getting rid of fossil fuels. We’re getting rid of the subsidies for fossil fuels, but we’re not getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time.” His running mate Kamala Harris also quickly jumped into cleanup duty, as did every Biden supporter or Trump hater in the country. Did Biden the stumblebum trip over his own tongue once again?
Don Trump wasn’t about to waste this glimmer of hope, telling reporters that Joe Biden “put the nail in the coffin” in Pennsylvania. Since Pennsylvania is a vital swing state with a robust oil industry, that might qualify as wishful thinking.
But thanks to Biden, it was the Democrats having to fend off reporters asking whether they gave a frack. But the wisest among them knew that it would just be a matter of time before the Biden gaffe was a laugh.
And sure enough, the White House’s own verbiage mangler, chief of staff Mark Meadows, obliged by telling CNN, “We’re not going to control the pandemic.” Democrats were only too happy to pounce on that one, portraying it as the administration’s admission of COVID defeat.
Headlines were also shifting to Mike Pence, aka Vice President Milquetoast, with the news that his own chief of staff, Marc Short, and other key people on the Milquetoast crew had tested positive for COVID -- and that Pence planned to campaign anyway.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden could use his vast financial advantage to sop up his oil spill by creating some dramatic TV spots showing the hurricanes, floods and massive forest fires contrasted with the hundreds of times that Trump has called climate change a hoax.
So, as a lasting issue, the Biden faux pas is kind of threadbare, particularly since most voters have already made up their minds. And Election Day, along with the extralegal maneuvering afterward, will not end a campaign that has already been a gaffe-a-minute.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.