But first things first. While Biden is not, perhaps, as astute as he thinks he is, he is more astute than most of his detractors give him credit for being.
That said, press conferences are theater on an immense stage and performed at a worldwide theater in which many in the audience simply come to boo. There are strong reasons why President Biden should not do solo press conferences: (1) he gives his detractors too much about which to boo; (2) he gives serious critics too much about which to be critical; (3) he gives his supporters too much to have to explain; and finally; (4) he isn’t very good at it.
Some of his responses to questions asked at his marathon press conference this week were quite good, but some were absolutely cringeworthy. When that’s the case, only the cringeworthy will be remembered or even covered by the media.
Also, President Biden has some vintage signature “tells” that too often presage trouble ahead. He should stop beginning any pronouncement with, “here’s the deal,” without really having a deal to present. Nor should he begin a response that starts with “Number one” when there really is no number one, let alone a number two or a number three. These vintage Biden lead-ins too often suggest that he’s freewheeling and doesn’t really have a deal to present, and often there is no actual number two or number three to follow his overwrought number one. Those Bidenisms may be acceptable in Wilmington, Bethany, Fenwick Island, or Slaughter Beach, Delaware (no irony intended), but they are very weak beyond the Delmarva Peninsula.
The President should always have an appropriate cabinet member or another relevant official on whom he can call at future press conferences. Sure, at first, his detractors will guffaw at his need to have others prop him up. Still, soon enough, people will begin to appreciate that he has appointed well-informed experts as any top-notch CEO would. More importantly, people will come to appreciate that there is important information being imparted at these press conferences by impressive authorities with whom the President routinely confers. The positives will quickly outweigh the negatives, and solid substance will certainly overshadow imprecise rambling.
Rambling before the world, especially before America’s enemies, can be dangerous. The subsequent need to have spokespersons walk back what the President has said makes the President look weak, out of touch, and misinformed. And if he seems weak, out of touch, or misinformed, our enemies may dangerously miscalculate. It just isn’t worth it.
For example, when the President was asked, “And given how ineffective sanctions have been in deterring Putin in the past, why should the threat of new sanctions give him pause?”
Biden answered, in part, “…And so, I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades, and it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, etc.“
Now, I assume, there have been instances of worse answers given by presidents in response to questions at a press conference, but, franklin, I can’t think of any.
Later, another reporter returned to the same question, giving Biden a chance to clean up his initial response.
The reporter: “Mr. President, I wanted to follow up briefly on a question asked by Bloomberg. You said that Russia would be held accountable if it invades, and it depends on what it does; it’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and we end up having to fight about what to do and what not to do. Are you saying that a minor incursion by Russia into Ukrainian territory would not lead to the sanctions that you have threatened, or are you effectively giving Putin permission to make a small incursion into the country?”
Here, President Biden is tossed a life preserver, a rare opportunity to rethink and clarify what, by now, he must realize was a botched answer to an enormously important question. He now has a chance to be unequivocal in showing resolve. Instead, he rambles on and on and further equivocates.
Biden: “…Good question. So, it did challenge it, didn’t it? The most important thing to do — big nations can’t bluff, number one. Number two, the idea that we would do anything to split NATO, which would be — have a profound impact on one of, I think, profound impact on — one of Putin’s objectives is to weaken NATO would be a big mistake. So, the question is if it’s a — something significantly short of a significant invasion, or not even significant, just major military forces coming across. For example, it’s one thing to determine that if they continue to — to use cyber efforts, well, we — we can respond the same way with cyber. They have FSB (Former Soviet Bloc) people in Ukraine now trying to undermine the solidarity within Ukraine about Russia and to try to promote Russian interests. But it’s very important that — that we keep everyone in NATO on the same page, and that’s what I’m spending a lot of time doing. And there are differences. There are differences in NATO as to what countries are willing to do depending on what happens, the degree to which they are able to go. And I want to be clear with you. The serious imposition of sanctions relative to dollar transactions and other things are things that are going to have a negative impact on the United States, as well as a negative impact on the economies of Europe as well, a devastating impact on Russia. And so, I got to make sure everybody’s on the same page as we move along. I think we will if there’s something that is — that — whether it’s Russian forces crossing the border, killing Ukrainian fighters, etc., I think that changes everything. But it depends on what he does as [Inaudible] to what extent, we’re going to be able to get total unity on the Russia — on the NATO front.“
Now, to be sure, the White House was busy cleaning up this train wreck of a response before the press conference was even over, but no good purpose was served by this marathon performance staged for the sole purpose of demonstrating that the President was up to a marathon performance. He wasn’t, nor would be almost anyone else. Certainly not the engineer at the throttle of the rambling press-conference train wrecks conducted by the prior Administration.
If we’re going to have Presidential press conferences, let the purpose be to highlight the Administration’s competency by featuring, and having the President introduce as appropriate to the agenda, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. so that they don’t have to put the President’s response together again.