Joe Biden vs. a dead skunk: Our president may be old, but the opposition is literally rotting

No one really wants a Biden-Trump rematch in 2024 — and it still might not happen. But what's the alternative?

By Brian Karem


Published April 27, 2023 9:03AM (EDT)

U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol shake hands during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House, April 26, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden (R) and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol shake hands during a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House, April 26, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

I remember as a child walking to the neighborhood bus stop to go to elementary school and watching a large skunk trying to race across the street, only to be run over by a car.

The look on that skunk's face, panicked but determined, convinced me it was unaware that it was dead even as it thrashed about, spewing entrails and blood across the road. The stench was unbearable.

That is today's Republican Party

The GOP is dead. It died before Donald Trump climbed atop its fetid carcass and staked his claim as the last Great White Hope. All that is left of the Grand Old Party that used to include progressives and liberals is a pack of racists, misogynists, science deniers and God-fearing evangelicals who pray for a past that never existed and who fear that the rest of the world is out for retribution against them. There is nothing more fascinating, or horrifying, than watching the paroxysm of violence and fear expelled in the death throes of a dying animal — or a dying political party.

Trump today sits on his fecal throne, "ahead by 45 points," according to his own polls, over his closest potential challenger, Ron DeSantis. He spouts lunacy about returning to power, which he can't admit he lost, to a president he won't admit he lost to — and with a minority of voters backing his play, though they include insurrectionists and stochastic terrorists who still believe in the "Big Lie" and think the Jan. 6 insurrection was a picnic in the park.

Joe Biden said Wednesday from the heat sink in the Rose Garden, during a bilateral press conference with the president of South Korea, that while he may not be the only Democrat able to beat Donald Trump, he's running for re-election because his "work is unfinished" and the U.S. is "at an inflection point" in history. 

For those who think Biden is incapable of stronger words, he had plenty of those. If North Korea ever chose to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. or its allies, he said, the U.S. would "end whatever regime" made that decision. That's political-speak for "mess with the bull and you get the horns." It was also a not-so-subtle reference to the fact that we are closer to nuclear conflict in many regions of the globe than we've ever been in my lifetime.

Biden's announcement about his candidacy this week means he could end up pitted against Trump for a second time. Some are looking forward to that rematch, or at least so the headlines say. I don't know who the hell would look forward to that, other than crazed MAGA believers who would eat tainted horse meat on a dare. Many voters, including most Democrats, are not looking forward to Biden vs. Trump, round 2. Sequels are rarely better than the original, and there are plenty of reasons not to want a sequel to the 2020 general election featuring the same characters.

Some say Biden is too old. Others say "get over it" and that it's a done deal; Biden and Trump will square off in November of next year.

I remain unsure that either man will be on the ticket, and I know we can do better than both.

Make no mistake, by any reasonable standard, Biden has done well so far in his two and a half years as president. He's restored some semblance of stability, shored up our democracy and accomplished things on the national and international stage that should give us all hope. He's fond of saying how he told world leaders that "America is back" after he was elected, but was greeted with the phrase, "Yeah, for how long?" He is seen as professional and competent, a stark contrast to his predecessor, who talked about curing COVID by ingesting bleach and seriously tried to purchase Greenland.

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Speaking of Donald Trump, he has already been indicted on multiple felony counts in New York, and the district attorney of Fulton County, Georgia, gave us advance warning this week that she will present her case this summer. That will potentially mean more charges against Trump and perhaps some of his cronies. He's already on trial for sexual assault, in the civil case brought by writer E. Jean Carroll. He still faces potential charges in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case as well as related to the Jan. 6 insurrection. By the time fall comes around he may be up to his combover in legal problems. That just might make him ill enough to drop out of the race. 

Trump isn't much younger than Biden, and the actuarial tables do not speak well for either candidate. With the average lifespan of the American male being around 73 years, both of these guys have exceeded those expectations. At any minute, either or both could be incapacitated by any of a variety of maladies that frequently afflict the elderly. 

Donald Trump faces potential charges in four different investigations, plus a civil suit for sexual assault. Will he really still be running this fall?

There are those in the MAGA court who question Joe Biden's mental health. I laugh to the point of tears. I mean, you may question Biden's mental health. But there's no question about Trump, the perennial ferret on Benzedrine, who is so batshit nuts that he claims to be a billionaire while also selling coffee mugs with fake mugshots for $47 a pop, supposedly to help fund his defense in the Manhattan felony case he claims is bogus. Of course, he also claims to be the political messiah and insists that only he can solve all our problems.

It is Trump's constant interaction with the press that has removed all doubt about his mental stability. Biden could put to rest many of the questions about his mental health if he interacted with people more often, but he just doesn't do it. I won't speculate as to why. He's had fewer press conferences than any president since Ronald Reagan — who also faced numerous questions about his mental acuity during his second administration. Biden announced his candidacy in a three-minute video released through influencers and traditional news outlets. It was slick and well produced, and was meant to promote the president's sense of destiny, as well as his desire to move beyond the divisiveness promoted by Donald Trump and his MAGA lunatics. But it actually raises more questions than answers. 

Biden's initial announcement is low-key, and avoided traditional media. That was by design. So is his resistance to mixing it up with the press, many of whom he does not respect and wishes to avoid. But the thing is, Biden at least inhabits the world of reality. He talks about issues. He speaks to the American people's actual needs. Yes, he stutters and stammers, as he has always done. He stumbles and makes gaffes. But he also speaks with intelligence and impressive knowledge of the issues. He is always better in person than any of his staff, and always better off the teleprompter than on it.

In both parties, if we look past Biden and Trump, who would we see as potential candidates in the 2024 election? Bench strength is weak on both sides. 

On the Democratic side there is Vice President Kamala Harris, who is not popular and has little support among rank-and-file Democrats. There are some who think she should be replaced on the ticket, but so far Biden has shown no inclination to pull an FDR and find himself a Harry Truman. (That was the last time an incumbent vice president was replaced before an election — in 1944.) Democrats clearly fear losing African-American and women voters, and no one is convinced that California Gov. Gavin Newsom, one of the likely alternatives, could lead. 

The Republicans have even less. Consider Ron DeSantis, a bobble-headed booby with the overwhelming appeal of roadkill and the stench of fascism so deeply ingrained in his actions that when you watch him speak you have flashbacks to Mussolini — even if you've never dropped acid.

As you look at all the aging so-called leaders in this country, from Mitch McConnell to Dianne Feinstein to the current and former presidents, there is one thing that you can't help noticing: Both parties are suffering.

Perhaps the future for the Democrats is someone like Andy Beshear, the Democratic governor of Kentucky, the deep-red commonwealth otherwise dominated by Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell. He was a guest at the White House state dinner Wednesday night. That was his first visit. If Beshear is being groomed for a national role in the Democratic Party, it won't be his last.

But is there any hope at all left in the Republican Party?

No. There isn't. It's the roadkill skunk bleeding out on the asphalt under the cloudy stench of its own excretions.

That dead political skunk is exactly why Joe Biden is running for a second term. He believes it's his job to clean up the mess.

He told us in the Rose Garden on Wednesday that even if Donald Trump weren't running, he still would be. He certainly doesn't fear losing the race. He seems almost resigned to winning it.

But I believe Biden is a reluctant warrior. When he said that what happens in the next two or three years could determine the fate of the nation for the next 20 or 30, I wanted to ask if that meant he only thought he'd be around two or three more years.

But I know better. Biden reminds me of Jimmy Carter. He is running because he believes he has to do all he can with whatever he can for as long as he can. Whether he is correct or not is another matter.

Biden isn't running for his own glory or his legacy. He has assured himself a place in the history books with his first administration.

Joe Biden isn't running to ensure his legacy. He's already earned a place in the history books. He believes that's not enough — but he should.

He believes that's not enough, but he should. That's why, in retrospect, his recent trip to Ireland seems all the more poignant; it almost seems that in considering his own mortality Biden is giving up any chance of a life after his presidency. With all that he's accomplished in two and a half years, he deserves more than a week's respite in those rolling green hills of Ireland. But whatever happens, it is not likely he'll get it. 

The Democratic Party needs to find younger voices who can carry on for the next 20 or 30 years, not just the next two or three.

Meanwhile the Republicans should rename themselves the MAGGOTS, since they're feasting on a dead corpse..

The country deserves better, but we're not going to get it until younger voices take the lead.

As volatile as the political landscape is in this country, the next 18 months may be the proving ground that will shine a light on who those younger voices might be.

Yes, if the presidential election were happening today, it would indeed be a replay of the 2020 election.

But there's a lot of time and a lot of road to cover before we get there. Just watch out for the skunks.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Commentary Democrats Donald Trump Elections Joe Biden Republicans Ron Desantis South Korea