Ex-Jill Biden Aide Warns of ‘Obsession for Control’ Following Story on POTUS Aging

Win McNamee
Win McNamee

Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner had a saying about maintaining relationships with the political press: “You gotta feed the alligators. Otherwise, they’ll eat you.”

On Thursday, as the Biden campaign and the White House continued to raise objections to a Wall Street Journal article about Joe Biden’s age and allegedly diminished mental competency, a former top aide to First Lady Jill Biden told The Daily Beast Bidenworld could learn a valuable lesson from the whole affair.

“I just don’t know if constantly complaining, and whining, and attacking the legacy media, or the media in general, is a winning strategy at this point,” Michael LaRosa said in an exclusive interview.

The Biden campaign did not comment.

LaRosa is one of the last people from whom Bidenworld wants unsolicited advice, but his point was that the issue is not the president’s age. It’s about how the campaign handles it.

Focus groups and poll after poll indicate Biden’s age, 81, is not just a top concern for voters, but one over which Donald Trump—who at 77 is only three and-a-half years younger—has been receiving higher marks despite questions over his own fitness for office, stoked by rambling about “the late, great Hannibal Lecter,” donuts, windmills killing “all the birds” and even whales, and repeatedly mixing up the names of political foes and world leaders.

While LaRosa said he disagreed with the overall premise of the Journal article and attested to Biden being an astute listener and often an intense presence in meetings, he said the collective freakout was not serving the re-election bid at all.

Several high-profile Democrats—including Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the former House Speaker—have said their on-the-record quotes were omitted by the Journal while those from former GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and other Republicans received prominent placement.

Still, as much as LaRosa said he vehemently disagrees with the notion that Biden is diminished by age, he pointed to the response from the campaign and White House as a slightly ominous sign, given how the age issue isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

While the Biden campaign is keen on using humor to diffuse voter anxieties about the president and to point out Trump’s myriad flubs, operatives are also not afraid to forcefully push back on reporting they deem unfair or heavily slanted in Republicans’ favor. Since the start of the general election campaign, in March, the Biden campaign has had a plan to diffuse Trump’s age-based attacks, as The Daily Beast previously reported.

Yet the needle hasn’t moved much and Democrats have privately grumbled that the campaign has been in denial over how serious of an issue the president’s age remains.

“As a supporter, it doesn’t give me a lot of confidence going forward,” LaRosa said of the response to the Journal story. “And I don’t think continuing to sour relationships with the media is helpful to the president.”

LaRosa has been a thorn in Bidenworld’s side for some time. He served as Jill Biden’s press secretary during the 2020 campaign and then as her chief spokesperson and a special assistant in the White House until August 2022. He worked on interview preparations for both the president and first lady but was never a decider within Biden’s circle. LaRosa told The Daily Beast he felt he never fully gained the trust of Biden’s aides, perhaps because he was a former producer for ex-MSNBC host Chris Matthews.

Since leaving the administration, LaRosa has been one of few such Democrats to pointedly criticize the communications strategies of the White House and the Biden campaign.

He noted how many times the Biden team has proved critics wrong.

“I don’t necessarily wanna blame them for their impulses to operate in this bunker mentality,” LaRosa said.

However, for as much as Biden has been able to thrive as an underdog, LaRosa said the president and first lady’s desire to control his public image can do more harm than good.

“When you operate in a bunker like that, you constantly operate out of fear and angst. It has to do with this obsession for control,” LaRosa said, adding that it’s the job of staffers “to say, ‘Look, in the macro sense, nobody is going to care about this thing or that thing.’”

Biden has been doing plenty of interviews, just not many with mainstream media. The campaign has favored podcasts and talk radio, from Conan O’Brien and Howard Stern to local Black and Hispanic radio stations and making the president available for short-form video content creators.

Asked if he expects any kind of a shakeup at the top of the campaign or any kind of a course correction, LaRosa said he was not confident. He also praised the likes of Jen O’Malley Dillon, the campaign chair, and other Biden advisers for being instrumental in his 2020 win, and expressed confidence they can bring it home again.

LaRosa said there’s only so much advisers can do when it comes to an issue like age.

“My hair is not on fire,” LaRosa said. But “like 2016 and 2020, the country is in a mood,” for change.

Doing more sitdown interviews—such as the one Biden just did with Time, or his sitdown in Normandy with David Muir of ABC News—and frequently doing short videotaped interviews for local news affiliates, LaRosa argued, could go a long way.

“When you lose a lot of good will with the press,” he said, “you get stories like this.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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