In recent weeks, President Donald J Trump has been ringing alarm bells about former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump has suggested that Biden will be taking performance-enhancing drugs to get through tonight’s debate, and has demanded that his opponent take a drug test to prove otherwise. Trump also insisted on the same against Hillary Clinton in 2016, a request which was denied. 

Trump Suggests His Opponent Will Need Drugs to Survive Tonight

Over the past few months, Trump has been sounding alarms that Biden may be in a state of cognitive decline. With a speech impediment that causes verbal gaffes and a tendency to be easily flustered, Biden’s public performances are a grab bag of mistakes and occasional eloquence. 

According to Breitbart, Trump has a hard time believing that the VP can collect his thoughts without the help of performance-enhancing drugs. Breitbart reports, “The president said that he watched previous Democrat debates where Biden was clearly ‘out of it’ but that he appeared much better during the final primary debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

‘He was okay. I mean, he wasn’t great; he wasn’t terrible; he was okay,’ Trump said.

Trump questioned how Biden turned around his debate performances despite earlier disasters.

‘People say he was on performance-enhancing drugs; a lot of people have said that, a lot of people have written that,’ Trump said.”

Trump also told the Washington Examiner in August, “‘I don’t know how he could have been so incompetent in his debate performances and then all of a sudden be OK against Bernie,’ Mr. Trump said in the interview. ‘My point is, if you go back and watch some of those numerous debates, he was so bad. He wasn’t even coherent. And against Bernie, he was. And we’re calling for a drug test.’”

The President Offers a Solution: Drug Tests for Everyone

Donald Trump

The Breitbart story continues, “Reporters challenged the president on his sources for the drug usage claim.

‘You can check out the internet, you’ll see, plenty of people say it,’ Trump said. ‘And whether he is or not, doesn’t matter; he can take a test and I can take a test too.’”

Biden’s campaign has not agreed to the drug tests, and the accusation echoes similar ones made against the president himself who has often struggled to speak coherently or who has mixed up words. The fact that both candidates are on an even par with all the struggles of aging seems to be, for the moment, not central to the dialogue. The claims against Biden are without any hard evidence, and the president continues to press them as the debate nears. 

Is There Any Truth to the Claims of Biden’s Drug Use?

Joe Biden speaking passionately

Short of Biden’s people agreeing to a drug test, it’s unlikely we’ll ever get a clear answer on this. While it would not be ideal for the president of the United States to be under the influence of any sort of potentially mind-altering drugs, the stigma against mental health treatment has created an atmosphere of hush. Even if Biden were struggling with cognitive decline and using drugs to counter the effects; prescribed or otherwise, it’s unlikely that information would be released. This hush works in favor of citizens who would face job or personal life discriminations for treatment of mental health struggles, but it does raise an interesting question; are voters entitled to the mental health record of a presidential candidate?

Trump himself has come under fire in the past for alleged abuse of Adderall, which could be seen as performance enhancing drug as well. 

Trump Asked Clinton for a Drug Test in 2016

Hillary Clinton

While the president seems bizarrely focused on insisting on drug testing, this isn’t the first time he’s made this sort of finger-pointing a debate strategy. The New York Times reports that, in 2016, Trump insisted that Clinton too was abusing drugs; “‘We should take a drug test prior because I don’t know what’s going on with her,’ he said then. ‘But at the beginning of her last debate — she was all pumped up at the beginning, and at the end it was like, ‘Oh, take me down.’ She could barely reach her car.’”

Why the Focus on Drug Use?

There are several theories for this. One, that the president genuinely believes what he says. He believes that Biden is abusing drugs, and is worried about an unfair advantage.

The other big possibility is that it’s a tactic to make any gaffe by Biden exaggerated. Any verbal slip-up will be magnified. Any fumbled thoughts will be part of the bigger picture. And so would a flawless performance. 

It’s a calculated risk. Trump stands to benefit if Biden does flub tonight. He could also potentially benefit if Biden soars through the night with perfect diction and focus. In the first scenario, Trump is right about Biden’s cognitive decline, according to him. In the second scenario, Trump has more fuel to suggest that Biden is using cognitive enhancing drugs since he’s well known not to be a flawless orator. 

The most likely scenario is that Biden is on his game, performs well but not perfectly, and Trump is left looking like he made much ado about nothing. This could be disastrous for the president who has had a hard time finding purchase against Biden with personal attacks, which he usually excels at. While Biden’s political history isn’t polished and pure, Biden has been around Washington long enough that for every finger Trump points, 10 Biden colleagues can point back at Trump. This puts Trump at a disadvantage trying to tarnish the reputation of someone the politicos know so well. 

It’s certainly an interesting strategy and after tonight, Trump will be able to see what fruit it bears. If he gambled well, voters walk away tonight with an image of a presidential candidate who may be hiding a mental health secret that would make him unfit. 

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