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Biden harms self with unforced document error

Of all the sports metaphors political leaders should heed, there is one that stands above the others:

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Opinion

Of all the sports metaphors political leaders should heed, there is one that stands above the others:

Never shoot the puck in your own net.

Political own-goals can bring down governments, change the course of elections, and even end careers prematurely.

And within the spectrum of own-goals, there is one type that is more dangerous than others: the own-goal that draws attention away from a previous own-goal scored by an opponent. For an excellent example, look no further than U.S. President Joe Biden.

Last November, it appeared Mr. Biden was doing pretty well, all in all.

The Democratic Party leader had an unexpectedly strong showing in midterm elections. The Democrats narrowly lost control of the House of Representatives, but retained control of the Senate with some stunning upsets. The Republican Party, denied its much-touted “Red Wave,” seemed in disarray, deeply wounded by mishandling of such issues as abortion access and impaired by infighting over the role former president Donald Trump may play in the 2024 election.

PATRICK SEMANSKY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES

U.S. President Joe Biden pivoted attention away from his Republican opponents and fired the puck (or ball, if you prefer) at his own net.

Mr. Biden was not particularly popular; most U.S. opinion polls showed an equal number of Americans approve and disapprove of his performance. But he had one thing going for him: he was not Mr. Trump.

And then, Mr. Biden pivoted attention away from his Republican opponents and fired the puck (or ball, if you prefer) at his own net.

On Nov. 2, aides to Mr. Biden found classified government documents at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, D.C., a think-tank named for the president. After discovering the documents, they notified the National Archives, which in turn notified the Justice Department. A lawyer was tasked to review the situation, resulting in Attorney General Merrick Garland being asked to appoint a special prosecutor.

Interestingly, none of these events became public until early January — meaning voters were unaware of what was going on when they went to the polls on Nov. 8 to vote in midterm elections. Which means when they voted, they believed Mr. Trump was the only leader who had been caught in possession of classified government documents.

The turmoil over Mr. Trump’s decision to retain thousands of government documents continues to simmer and may still leave the former president’s reputation so impaired the GOP will resist the temptation to nominate him again in 2024. However, Mr. Biden’s own-goal certainly gives Mr. Trump’s desired comeback an added glimmer of hope.

The turmoil over Mr. Trump’s decision to retain thousands of government documents continues to simmer and may still leave the former president’s reputation so impaired the GOP will resist the temptation to nominate him again in 2024.

At first blush, the two situations do not seem comparable. Mr. Biden’s staff has so far uncovered a handful of classified documents, and his lawyers proactively contacted the Justice Department and willingly turned them over.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, was in possession of more than 11,000 government documents, including more than 100 deemed classified. His refusal to return them to the archives resulted in the unprecedented decision by the FBI to execute a search warrant at his Mar-a-Lago resort and personal residence in Florida. Indictments may follow.

But Mr. Biden’s misstep reinforces the idea that it is perhaps not unusual for high-ranking government officials to leave office with classified materials.

Mr. Biden does not seem, as yet, to have suffered any significant damage from the own-goal. The most recent polls show his approval rating at or — remarkably — slightly above the middling levels he enjoyed before he stepped into his own document controversy.

However, as more information comes out and his opponents seek to capitalize on the error, Mr. Biden’s own-goal runs the risk of galvanizing a fractured Republican Party and reinvigorating the political aspirations of an angry former president.

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