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Ben Shapiro, the popular right-wing podcast host and author, echoed this sentiment. The president “has a deeply nonthreatening persona,” Shapiro told me. “You kind of feel bad attacking him, honestly, because it feels like elder abuse.”
Putting aside whether the perception of Biden as a bumbling geriatric bears any resemblance to reality, the fact that it’s so firmly embedded in the conservative media means that it will be difficult to dislodge. To gain literary traction on the right, a villain has to generate fear and outrage, not simply ridicule. Consider the past three decades of conservative best sellers. When Bill Clinton was on the cover, the books were laden with prurient (and in many cases dubious) details about his alleged affairs and personal corruption. When it was Barack Obama, the books portrayed him—many in barely veiled racial terms—as a dangerous radical trying to transform America. And though she was never actually elected, the ominous prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency generated years’ worth of right-wing best sellers. (In 2006, when she was still a senator considering her first presidential bid, journalist Ben Smith wrote that Clinton had already been the subject of about 30 books, with a dozen more in the works, and compared the Hillary-book boomlet to the Da Vinci Code phenomenon.)
Jonah Goldberg, a former National Review columnist who has written several popular conservative books, told me it was never hard to make Hillary Clinton seem “sinister” to readers of a certain stripe. “Hillary was a kind of Zelig figure of the post-’60s left. Some of the associations were tenuous, but you could play the political equivalent of the Kevin Bacon game with her without needing more than one or two degrees of separation. Black Panthers! Communist law firms! Sidney Blumenthal! Saul Alinsky!” Biden, an aging white guy who spent decades in the Senate, is by contrast “somewhat boringly conventional.”
And there’s another problem, Goldberg told me: “Most of the good ammo against Biden—which I’ve deployed in the past—isn’t as effective after four years of Trump. He says crazy things! He doesn’t know what he’s talking about! He has a ridiculous ego and lies about his brilliance and expertise! All of this is true. But all of that has been normalized by Trump.” To a conservative movement that has been “mainlining crazy for five years,” it’s hard to get excited about measured criticism of Biden and his policies.