The straw person fallacy is a stock tactic in politics, so it is no surprise that Trump and his fellows have constructed a straw Biden. Interestingly, one of their straw Bidens is presented as holding straw versions of socialism—perhaps risking a strawception incident.
One version of the Straw Person fallacy is committed when one ignores a person’s actual claim or argument and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of it. This sort of “reasoning” has the following pattern:
Premise 1: Person A makes claim or argument X.
Premise 2: Person B presents Y (which is a distorted version of X).
Premise 3: Person B attacks Y.
Conclusion: Therefore, X is false/incorrect/flawed.
This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a claim or argument does not constitute a criticism of the position itself. This fallacy often makes use of hyperbole, a rhetorical device in which one makes an exaggerated claim. A Straw Person can be highly effective because people often do not know the real claim or argument being attacked. The fallacy is especially effective when the straw person matches the audience’s biases or stereotypes—they will feel that the distorted version is the real version and accept it.
Another version of the straw person creates a straw person of the actual person by exaggerating or distorting their qualities, beliefs, or actions. Strictly speaking, this would involve hyperbole—but complete fabrications could be taken as being a form of straw person. This version has the following form:
Premise 1: Person A has or is P, Q, R.
Premise 2: Person B presents X, Y. Z (distorted versions of P, Q, R or even complete fabrications).
Premise 3: Person B attacks A one the basis of X, Y, Z.
Conclusion: Therefore, person A is defective/bad.
This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a person does not show there is anything wrong with that person. This tactic is especially effective when the attack matches the audience’s biases, fears, or stereotypes—they will feel that the distorted version of the person is the real person. Or perhaps they are in on the deceit and will merely pretend they do.
As noted above, Trump and his fellows are trying to create a straw person version of Biden who holds straw versions of political positions. Since consistency is not a concern when it comes to the use of rhetoric and fallacies, there are various inconsistent versions of the straw Biden.
One straw Biden (“racist Joe”), which is most likely aimed at demotivating the left, casts him as a tough on crime racist who opposes key policies beloved of the left. This version of Joe has a factual foundation—as noted in an earlier essay Joe has said some racist things and did back the 1994 crime law that is being used against him today. But the picture of Joe as a law and order racist does not hold up when one looks at the real Joe. It is also ironic that if Joe were really a tough on crime racist, he would be much more appealing to Trump’s base. After all, racism and being tough on (some) crime are Trump’s main selling points to much of his base.
Another straw Biden (“radical Joe”) presents him as a secret radical with a nightmare agenda that includes disarming Americans, emptying all the prisons, locking people in their homes and inviting MS-13 to move in next door. This directly contradicts the racist tough on crime straw Biden that some present side by side with the radical straw Biden. Obviously, Biden has endorsed none of these things and a look at the Democrats’ actual positions reveals that they do not want any of that. Because that would be madness. There is no evidence that the moderate Biden (and moderate Harris) want to do any of this—so the tactic of claiming secret knowledge of an unknown fact must be used. This is a common tactic when making a straw person: if no evidence exists, simply claim to have special knowledge of what “they don’t want you to know.” This allows the person making the straw person to reject any evidence against their version of the person—any evidence against their view is a priori untrue.
This radical Joe is also often presented as holding socialist or even Marxist views; but even these straw versions of Biden’s actual views are straw versions of socialism and even Marxism—that is, they do not correspond to the socialism of the leftwing of the Democrats and do not even correspond to any version of these views held by serious people. So, it is a straw version of Joe holding straw views that are straw versions of socialism. Strawception seems to be imminent.
A third straw Biden is that Biden (“Trojan Joe”) is a trojan horse for the radical left—that he might not be a radical but is an empty shell being used by the radical left to destroy America with socialism. Or, in a less extreme version, he will be too weak to resist the overwhelming power of the radical left and they will destroy America with socialism.
A fourth straw Biden (“sleepy Joe”) presents Joe as suffering from cognitive defects and being utterly incapable and incompetent. Joe’s gaffes and errors are legendary, but he does seem to be healthy for his age. This straw Biden is risky one for Trump and his supporters given that Trump seems to barely be holding on to the ability to use language. This straw Biden is compatible with Trojan Joe, but incompatible with radical Joe and somewhat inconsistent with racist Joe. But people have an impressive ability to believe inconsistent claims—it is amazing to see, in a series of Facebook posts, a person present and express belief in all four straw Bidens.
The defense against straw person attacks is easy and obvious: look at the real thing and consider the best available evidence. While straw persons are used because they often work, when people use them it seems to indicate that they think that they could not beat the real version of their opponent. That is, if Trump ran against the real Biden and his real views rather than the straw versions, he would lose because voters would prefer the real Biden to Trump. After all, if Trump and his fellows were confident that enough voters wanted Trump and did not want the real Biden, then the use of straw person attacks would make little sense. By using such attacks, Trump and his fellows seem to be proving that they must lie to win.