The Art of the Gaffe

Dr. Munr Kazmir
3 min readJul 14, 2019

Is Joe Biden’s classic campaign schtick perfect for 2020?

On May 8, the new Future of the Middle Class Initiative at Brookings and the Biden Foundation co-hosted a forum on the future of the middle class, featuring a keynote address by former Vice President Joe Biden. (photo: Brookings Institution)

Joe Biden has been called many things: Vice President of the United States, consummate deal-maker, progressive-liberal stalwart; he has also been called, and called himself, and a gaffe machine.

Selling Biden as the perfect foil for the inexperienced but meticulous Barack Obama in 2008 is one thing. In the presidential race of 2020, voters will be measuring Joe Biden against current U.S. President Donald Trump.

How will the two compare?

Trump isn’t so much a gaffe machine as a threat to the whole idea of a gaffe. In a world of his daily outrageous statements, and where even Trump’s most mundane statements are subject to the hostile witness treatment of the U.S. press corps, it is going to be difficult to cast anything he says as embarrassing. Trump doesn’t embarrass easily.

To the U.S. progressive left, Trump himself is an embarrassment.

Perhaps Biden himself put it best when contrasting his easy if sometimes cringeworthy political speaking style with that of Donald Trump:

“I am a gaffe machine. But my God, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can’t tell the truth.” — former Vice President Joe Biden, December 2018

President Trump, for his part, has his own views on the relative merits of Joe Biden, which he put somewhat less self-effacingly.

“Biden was never very smart. He was a terrible student. His gaffes are unbelievable. When I say something that you might think is a gaffe, it’s on purpose; it’s not a gaffe. When Biden says something dumb, it’s because he’s dumb.” — President Donald Trump, February 2019

Joe Biden, still considered the front runner in the race for the Democratic primary nomination, hasn’t disappointed this campaign season, even pretending to gaffe his decision to run before it was formalized.

Two of Biden’s recent misspeaks went right to the top of the charts of his most notorious gaffes. His propensity to speak a little too extemporaneously, as well as Biden’s less that stellar performance during the recent round of Democratic debates, have made his…