For one night, Biden was media master, by Clarence Page

3/14/2024, 6 p.m.
Ah, such embarrassment. Presidential campaigns will always surprise you, but I didn’t expect Donald Trump, a tireless master of media, ...

Ah, such embarrassment.

Presidential campaigns will always surprise you, but I didn’t expect Donald Trump, a tireless master of media, to be tripped up by his own social media platform.

Mr. Trump had announced before President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address began that he would supply his own special commentary in real time on “Truth Social,” the social media platform in which Mr. Trump has a financial stake.

But, when showtime arrived, the webcast was disrupted by a series of power outages. There were more than 3,000 reported outages on the site in its first half hour, according to Downdetector, a website that tracks user reports of web disruptions.

Even the master media manipulator hits static, among other perils, sometimes.

After the Trumpcast finally got underway, the former president unleashed a predictable burst of derogatory posts about the current president’s speech and fitness for office. Similar barbs were voiced by Mr. Trump’s fellow Republicans and other conservatives, who criticized the speech as too “angry” or “political” or “divisive.” But few, if any, described him as “showing cognitive decline,” for which President Biden can declare “mission accomplished.”

This was a speech in which what he said was possibly less important than how well he said it.

After all, as just about everybody knows, age is our 81-year-old president’s most serious vulnerability as he seeks a second term that would make him the oldest president in the nation’s history. At 77, Mr. Trump is no spring rooster, as my grandpa used to say, but — master of fast-talking showmanship and salesmanship that he is, regardless of whether he really knows what he’s talking about — Mr.Trump has gotten really good at looking and sounding less aged than Mr. Biden. In the real world, that gives a distinct advantage to Mr. Trump.

Let’s give President Biden credit, though. He performed well enough to reap the full benefit of our low expectations.

In another Truth Social post, even Mr. Trump grudgingly acknowledged that President Biden held his own. “The story is that he got through it, he’s still breathing, and they didn’t have to carry him out in a straitjacket.”

Of course, in his next sentence, Mr. Trump seemed to realize that maybe he was sounding too charitable for the good of his brand: “Other than that, he did not do a very good job.”

Which probably means he did a spectacular job, judging by the smiles I see on Democrats and other never-Trumpers I know.

President Biden’s mission was to reframe his stumbling re-election campaign and ease questions about his age and mental acuity. Somebody probably suggested that he get angry.

President Biden has always tried to be something like everybody’s buddy, but voters appreciate passion sometimes, especially when it is expressed on behalf of their legitimate concerns.

And, yes, he was heckled, a sign of how civility has declined at this annual event. But when it’s the likes of the right-wing Queen of Excesses (yes, I’m looking at you, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene) who is coming after you, it’s not so hard to look good.

On the flip side, Alabama Sen. Katie Britt, a rising star on the right, shows promise but got negative reviews for her official State of the Union response to President Biden.

My high school drama teacher would say she “overplayed” her role. With touchy issues like abortion and IVF playing poorly for Republicans after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it was smart of Republicans to ask the young married mom to do it. But it didn’t work well.

I do not often agree with Charlie Kirk, founder of the far-right Turning Point USA youth group, but he nailed it in an interview with The Guardian: “I’m sure Katie Britt is a sweet mom and person, but this speech is not what we need. Joe Biden just declared war on the American right and Katie Britt is talking like she’s hosting a cooking show, whispering about how Democrats don’t get it.”

A lot of people have been wondering if President Biden gets it too. At least for one night, and with the election still months away, President Biden showed he’s not too old to learn.

The writer is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.