Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

Democrats Struggling After Biden’s Debate Meltdown


The Democrat Party’s major donors have descended into deep unease following President Biden’s shockingly weak debate performance against Trump last week, and are now wondering what, if anything, they can do now to change the altered course of the presidential race.

There have been discussions with political advisers about the rules under which Biden might be removed from the Democrat ticket against his will and replaced at or before the party’s national convention in August.

One group of Biden campaign megadonors were reportedly calling, texting, and emailing one another about which of the contacts in the Biden camp they could contact to persuade Jill Biden, the first lady, that her husband must withdraw from the race before he embarrasses himself any further, for his own good as well as that of his party and the country.

At least one Silicon Valley Democrat activist who had planned to host a fundraiser for Biden this summer has decided to cancel the event because of Biden’s poor debate performance,



This crisis of confidence among Biden’s donors could not come at a worse moment for his campaign, because former president Trump’s campaign has out-fundraised Biden’s in each of the last two months, thanks to a surge in Trump donations triggered by his conviction by a Manhattan trial jury.

After opening a $100 million advantage over Trump’s campaign a couple of months ago, the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee entered June with a total of $212 million in the bank, compared with $235 million on hand for the Trump operation and the Republican National Committee. In an effort to push back against fears of a falloff in fundraising, Biden’s campaign issued a statement claiming to have raised a total of $27 million in online donations and in-person events during the 24 hours immediately after the debate.

Also, by that point, many of Biden’s donors who had initially panicked, and expressed the hope that he would “do the right thing” by exiting the race on his own, were starting to come to terms with the president’s declared determination to carry on with his campaign. They and the Biden campaign are now anxiously awaiting the publication of a new set of opinion polls before judging whether Biden’s candidacy can survive his debate meltdown.



The results of the Morning Consult poll, one of the first post-debate polls to be released, were not good news for Biden’s campaign. It found that 60% of all those surveyed said that Biden should be replaced as the Democrat candidate for President in November, and another 11% said they were unsure. Broken down by party affiliation, 47% of Democrats want Biden out of the race, compared to 59% of independents, and 74% of Republicans.

A post-debate CBS poll found that 72% of the registered voters surveyed said they believe that Biden does not possess the mental or cognitive health needed to fulfill the obligations of his office, up from 65% in a similar survey taken at the beginning of June.

A CNN poll of the same debate-watchers, conducted before and just after the debate showed Biden’s favorable rating dropping from 37 percent to 31 percent while Trump’s rose from 40 percent to 43 percent.

After the Biden camp made it clear that he was not going to drop out of the race, several prominent Democrats, led by former president Barack Obama, were quick to come to the president’s defense. They argued that Biden’s candidacy and record of achievement during his first term as president should not be disqualified on the strength of a single sub-par debate performance.



In his supportive message posted on social media, Obama wrote, “Bad debate nights happen. Trust me, I know. But this election is still a choice between someone who has fought for ordinary folks his entire life [Biden] and someone who only cares about himself [Trump].” Obama was referring to his lackluster performance in his first debate running as an incumbent president in 2012 against his GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, after which he recovered to defeat Romney soundly in that November’s election.

But former Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson reports that according to a reliable unnamed source, “Obama’s tweet supporting Joe Biden was disingenuous. In private, Obama is telling people Biden can’t win, and he is therefore in favor of an open convention.”

“Relations between the Obamas and the Bidens have never been warm. At times they’ve been hostile.”

“But recently they’ve deteriorated further, mostly due to Jill Biden.”

According to Carlson’s source, “In the hours and days [immediately] after the debate, she kept her husband cloistered away from anyone who might convince him to drop out.”

“Jill Biden is the driving force behind her husband’s reelection campaign, just as she was in 2020, when other members of the family (including Biden’s sister Val) considered him too [age-]impaired to run.”

Carlson adds, “The next generation of potential Democratic [presidential] candidates understands all this as an opportunity and they’re circling, particularly [Michigan Governor] Gretchen Whitmer, who is promoting herself aggressively.



Meanwhile, many deeply troubled Democrats across the country were asking the same “hard and heartbreaking” question voiced by former Missouri senator Claire McCaskill on MSNBC, “You have to ask, how did we get here?” By that, she clearly meant to ask how the Democrats put themselves in the position of being stuck with a failing presidential candidate, with no acceptable substitute in sight, just four months before the election.

In an attempt to answer that question, a New York Times analysis written by veteran reporters Jim Rutenberg and Adam Nagourney suggested that Biden’s decision to run for a second term was influenced by the overconfidence of “a tight circle of longtime aides and family members” in whom he puts his trust. According to David Plouffe, who was the senior adviser to Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign in 2012, that overconfidence was due to the Democrats’ surprisingly strong showing in the 2022 midterm elections. This prompted the members of Biden’s inner circle to tell him, “We’ve had three good elections in a row. The feeling was, ‘Let’s stay the course.’”

Once the decision was made that Biden run for a second term, there was no turning back. Biden’s supporters made the argument to their fellow Democrats that Biden was the only candidate who could have beaten Trump in 2020, and then promised that he could, and would, do so again.



Any Democrat strategist, including veterans such as David Axelrod and James Carville, who dared to suggest that the party needed a “Plan B” in case an 80-year-old Joe Biden were to falter before Election Day, were publicly chastised for disloyalty to their party.

As Axelrod was quoted explaining in the New York Times article, “I said then, privately and publicly, if Biden ran, he would be the nominee. I felt a primary challenge would fail and only help Trump. I’m sure there were potential Democratic challengers who made the same calculation and didn’t want to jeopardize their futures by running and taking that risk.”

This past February, New York Times columnist Ezra Klein published a lengthy piece making a detailed argument that Biden should step down for the good of the country. It was ignored.

Those Democrats who challenged Biden for the party’s presidential nomination, such as environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips, were denied an opportunity to compete on a level playing field by the Democratic National Committee, which changed the primary rules for Biden’s benefit.

When Phillips first publicly suggested in July of 2022 that Biden should step aside because, “I think the country would be well served by a new generation of compelling, well-prepared, dynamic Democrats to step up,” he was subjected to a harsh blowback from party activists. Phillips then tried to explain, in comments to Politico, “If he [Biden] were 15 to 20 years younger, it would be a no-brainer to nominate him, but considering his age, it’s absurd we’re not promoting competition but trying to extinguish it.”

Phillips decided to run for the nomination against Biden himself only after it became clear to him that no other prominent Democrat would do so. But he also insisted that in highlighting the need for a real competition for the party’s nomination, he was only saying publicly what other Democrats he knew were saying privately.

When Robert F. Kennedy Jr. announced his challenge to Biden for the party’s nomination, he was demonized mercilessly by Democrat activists as a vaccine denier and Covid conspiracy theorist. They ignored the fact that he was the son of one of the legendary figures in 20th-century American history, former attorney general and New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968 when on the verge of becoming the Democrats’ presidential candidate.

Democrats also reacted with fury last November when, after the publication of the New York Times/Sienna poll revealing that Trump was leading Biden in five out of six battleground states, David Axelrod suggested that Biden re-evaluate his candidacy, and that “what he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in HIS best interest or the country’s.”

Just a few weeks ago, White House officials and Democrats castigated the Wall Street Journal for publishing a story that presented an inside view of Biden’s shocking cognitive decline as revealed by 45 unnamed people who have seen and worked with the president every day at the White House.



Over the weekend, Axios reported that during the CNN debate, the American people saw one of two very different Joe Bidens who occupy the White House. The first Joe Biden, the one who is competent, alert, and “dependably engaged,” only exists during bankers’ hours, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on work days. That is why so many of the televised events from the White House are scheduled during these hours when Biden is at his best.

But according to what White House aides told Axios, “Outside of that time range or while traveling abroad, Biden is more likely to have verbal miscues and become fatigued.” That is the visibly feeble and compromised Joe Biden who appeared at last week’s debate, starting at 9 p.m. six hours past his prime performance time, which shocked the nation and alarmed his friends and supporters.

But the Axios report revealing Biden’s limited working hours raised an issue that Hillary Clinton emphasized during her 2016 campaign, when she claimed to be the candidate best qualified to answer the inevitable phone calls to the White House at 3 in the morning announcing bad news from some trouble spot around the world, and then making the right decision.

Who, we must now ask, is answering those 3 a.m. crisis phone calls in the Biden White House, and who is making the life or death, and war or peace decisions that must be made on the spot?



According to a Wall Street Journal report, Biden’s debate meltdown did not come as a complete surprise to some senior European officials who were already concerned by the noticeable deterioration in Biden’s faculties they had observed since last summer. But when they expressed their doubts about Biden’s ability to manage a second term as president, they were reassured in private discussions with Biden administration officials that there wasn’t any problem.

According to Nathalie Tocci, a former adviser to the EU’s foreign affairs chiefs, European officials “have been talking about [Biden’s age problem for years.] It’s something that has been known, always, that his age is his main Achilles’ heel.”

Similarly, shortly after Biden’s debate meltdown, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who has known Biden for years, told reporters, “I was afraid of this. It was to be expected that in a direct confrontation, in a debate, it would not be easy for the president.”

According to the same Wall Street Journal article, some of Biden’s biggest campaign contributors have been raising concerns for months about Biden’s “lack of spontaneity” in their meetings, as well as Biden’s tendency to lose his train of thought while speaking, a problem that was also evident in last week’s debate.



On the day after the CNN debate last week, both candidates returned to the campaign trail. Addressing an enthusiastic crowd of thousands of supporters in Chesapeake, Virginia, who waited for hours in the summer heat to hear him speak, Trump declared, “The question every voter should be asking themselves today is not whether Joe Biden can survive a 90-minute debate performance, but whether America can survive four more years of crooked Joe Biden in the White House.” Trump also expressed his doubts that the Democrats would force Biden to withdraw from the race. “Many people are saying that after last night’s performance, Joe Biden is leaving the race,” Trump said. “The fact is, I don’t really believe that,” he continued, “because he does better in the polls than any of the Democrats they’re talking about.”

In going through the list of weak possible substitutes for Biden at the top of the Democrat ticket, Trump said, ironically, that the choice of Kamala Harris “might’ve been Joe Biden’s single best decision, putting her vice president, because nobody wants her [to become president].”

Trump also elicited cheers from his supporters when he praised last week’s Supreme Court decision throwing out the conviction on obstruction charges of several hundred Trump supporters for “peacefully protesting [Biden’s victory] on January 6 [2021].”

Trump’s visit to Virginia was part of his campaign’s attempt to flip a state that hasn’t been won by a GOP presidential candidate since 2004, and which Biden carried by almost 10 points in 2020, but in which the most recent two statewide polls show Trump and Biden to be tied.

Biden’s efforts to calm his nervous Democrat supporters began with the fiery delivery of a scripted speech he read off of a teleprompter to an enthusiastic crowd at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina. His clear, vigorous delivery was in stark contrast to his halting and sometimes confused performance the previous evening on the CNN televised debate stage in Atlanta.



“I know I’m not a young man, to state the obvious,” Biden said to the cheering crowd. “Folks, I don’t walk as easily as I used to. I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to. I don’t debate as well as I used to. But I know what I do know. I know how to tell the truth. I know right from wrong. And I know how to do this job. I know how to get things done. And I know like millions of Americans know: When you get knocked down, you get back up.” Biden then added, “I give you my word as a Biden; I would not be running again if I didn’t believe with all my heart and soul I can do this job.”

Trump also took note of Biden’s speech to the North Carolina rally in a message on his Truth Social account, saying that, “his speech on Friday was better, and he seems to be coming out of his [debate] trance.”

But while Biden’s supporters attending the North Carolina rally seemed to be convinced of his fitness for a second term, they amounted to only a tiny fraction of the 51.3 million TV viewers of the previous night’s debate, as well as those voters influenced by the unanimous verdict of the mainstream news media commentators whose instant analysis of Biden’s performance was that it was a political disaster. They and the debate’s TV audience saw the same man that special counsel Robert Hur described in his February report. Hur wrote that he did not recommend indicting Biden for willfully mishandling classified documents after he left office, only “because [Biden] would likely present himself to a jury. . . as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”



There is also a certain irony in the age-related public relations problem that Biden faces now. Ever since he became president, whenever he was asked by a reporter about his ability to do his job at his advanced age, his stock answer was, “Watch me!” Now that a sizable portion of the American people have taken the president’s advice, and watched him stumble through a 90-minute debate against a cool, calm, and collected Donald Trump, the negative impression it created is probably irreversible. Nor are they likely to accept the Biden campaign’s lame explanation, offered only after the fact, that Biden’s voice sounded raspy during the debate because he had a cold and a sore throat.

Biden and his campaign hope that his vigorous performance at that North Carolina rally will buy them some time, as they work behind the scenes to counter the calls for Biden to step aside from the editorial boards of the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, as well as several prominent liberal commentators, such as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and the New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman. Ever since the debate, they have been calling upon Biden to drop out of the race for the good of his party and the other Democrats running in the November election, and to save the country from a second term of Trump as president.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, whose friendship with Biden goes back to her coverage of his first run for president in 1987, writes that by refusing to drop out after his disastrous debate performance, “He’s being selfish. He’s putting himself ahead of the country. . . He has created a reality distortion field where we’re told not to believe what we’ve plainly seen. His hubris is infuriating. He says he’s doing this for us, but he’s really doing it for himself.”

Dowd also wrote that Biden “didn’t just have an off night. . . Biden looked ghostly. . . he couldn’t remember his rehearsed lines or numbers. He has age-related issues, and those go in only one direction.”



The rationale of the New York Times editorial board’s call for Biden to end his re-election bid was particularly poignant. It wrote, “Mr. Biden has been an admirable president. Under his leadership, the nation has prospered. . . But the greatest public service Mr. Biden can now perform is to announce that he will not continue to run for re-election.

“As it stands, the president is engaged in a reckless gamble. There are Democratic leaders better equipped to present clear, compelling, and energetic alternatives to a second Trump presidency. There is no reason for the party to risk the stability and security of the country by forcing voters to choose between Mr. Trump’s deficiencies and those of Mr. Biden. It’s too big a bet to simply hope Americans will overlook or discount Mr. Biden’s age and infirmity that they see with their own eyes.”

The editorial reminds us that, “Mr. Biden challenged Mr. Trump to this verbal duel. He set the rules. . . He understood that he needed to address longstanding public concerns about his mental acuity and that he needed to do so as soon as possible.

“The truth Mr. Biden needs to confront now is that he failed his own test. . .

“If the race comes down to a choice between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, the sitting president would be this board’s unequivocal pick,” the New York Times editorial declares. “That is how much of a danger Mr. Trump poses. But given that very danger, the stakes for the country and the uneven abilities of Mr. Biden, the United States needs a stronger opponent to [defeat Trump].”



Over the weekend, the Biden White House recruited senior party leaders such as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her successor, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries to pledge their continued support for the president’s candidacy on the Sunday morning network news interview shows.

On the Sunday after the debate, Biden and his family returned to the Camp David presidential retreat to encourage Biden to stay in the race, while mapping out a strategy for supporting his candidacy and discouraging any other prominent Democrat from coming forward to replace him.

During that day, First Lady Jill Biden told Vogue magazine, which made her the subject of the cover story of its August edition, that the Biden family “will not let those 90 minutes [during the CNN debate] define the four years he’s been president. We will continue to fight [and President Biden] will always do what’s best for the country.”

Several prominent elected Democrats issued statements minimizing the importance of Biden’s debate meltdown and arguing that he is still the strongest candidate that the Democrats can field against Trump in the November election.

Maryland Governor Wes Moore told CBS News, “I think that the president [just] had a difficult night, just like every single one of us do, [but] Joe Biden is not going to take himself out of this race, nor should he.”

Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock told NBC News that it was only normal for Democrats to feel nervous about Biden’s poor debate performance, saying, “Listen, if they weren’t engaged in a little bit of hand-wringing, they wouldn’t be Democrats.”

Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman cited his own recovery from a poor debate performance during his 2022 campaign, after having suffered a debilitating stroke, recalling that at the time, “Everybody was calling that the end of my [political] career.”

South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn was responsible for Biden’s primary victory in 2020 in that state, which led to the nomination. He said following the CNN debate, “I do not believe that Joe Biden has a problem leading for the next four years because he’s done a great job of leading for the last three and a half years,” Clyburn also criticized Trump’s reference during the debate to “black jobs” being lost to illegal immigrants, because Clyburn dislikes the implication that “there are certain jobs for black people and there are certain jobs for white people.”

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged her fellow Democrats not to make “a judgment about a presidency on [the basis of] one debate.” She also suggested that voters care more about the issues in the campaign than the debating style of the candidates, and that their “reaction to the lies of Donald Trump is something that maybe TV isn’t focusing on, but people are.”

On Monday, Biden’s candidacy also received a thinly veiled, but arguably improper endorsement from his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. While speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Blinken said that foreign leaders have “seen a president who has reinvested America in the world, reinvested in these alliances, in these partnerships, in ways that they seek and want. You see again, again and again, the confidence in American leadership has gone up dramatically over the last three and a half years [since Biden became president].”

Blinken went on to claim that the rest of the world sees Biden as having led the way in many different areas, and generally approves of his choices and policies.

Biden’s defenders argue that his well-received State of the Union address on March 7, which quieted his critics at that point, and his bounce-back speech in North Carolina the day after the CNN debate, prove that he is still capable of performing effectively. But his critics point out that both of those speeches Biden read from prepared texts on a teleprompter. They are no proof that Biden still has the ability a president needs to think on his feet and communicate those thoughts clearly to the American people and the rest of the world. His poor debate performance last week indicates Biden now appears to lack those skills.



Liberal Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, one of Trump’s most outspoken critics, was much more open than other Democrats in discussing that issue in an interview on MSNBC. “There was a big problem with Joe Biden’s debate performance,” Raskin began. “There are very honest and serious and rigorous conversations taking place at every level of our party. … We’re having a serious conversation about what to do.”

On a more positive note, Raskin then added, “One thing I can tell you is that regardless of what President Biden decides, our party is going to be unified … Whether he’s the candidate or someone else is the candidate, he is going to be the keynote speaker at our convention. He will be the figure that we rally around to move forward and beat the [Trump] forces of authoritarianism and reaction in the country.”

James Carville, the Democrat political strategist who managed President Bill Clinton’s brilliantly successful 1992 campaign, has been publicly criticizing Biden’s re-election campaign for months. Carville argues that by failing to give traditional Democrat voters the message they want to hear, Biden’s campaign enabled Trump’s populist message to win them over. Carville now says that nothing he’s seen from Biden since the debate last week has changed his opinion that Biden shouldn’t be the Democrats’ presidential candidate.

In an interview with Politico, Carville admitted that his blunt position on the issue could lose him some money and even some friends, and that he’s gotten calls over the last few days from senior Democrats telling him that he needs to cut it out because he’s not being helpful right now. But Carville adds that the most important point is that, “No one [has been telling him], ‘You’re wrong.’”



Meanwhile, prominent Republicans continued to argue that Biden’s debate performance is evidence that he is unfit to serve a second term as president. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told CNN that “[Biden] is compromised. That’s the storyline here. That’s what the world saw — a compromised president.”

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, whose name is reportedly on Trump’s short list of possible vice-presidential running mates, told NBC News that Biden’s cognitive problems at the debate were too obvious and serious for Democrats to dismiss lightly. “All of America saw it,” Burgum declared, “And you know who else saw it? Our adversaries saw it. Putin saw it, Xi saw it, the ayatollah saw it.”

Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio, who is rumored to be another potential Trump running mate, was critical of the changing tone of the media coverage of the debate. He told CBS News, “There was this [initial] 24-hour period where effectively everyone was honest that there was an incredible contrast between Donald Trump’s energy and command of the facts and Joe Biden’s obvious inability to do the job as president. And now, of course, we’ve transitioned to this new media cycle where [journalists] are trying to run cover [by fact-checking Trump’s debate statements but not Biden’s].”

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board’s “painful” verdict was that “President Biden’s halting, stumbling debate performance. . . showed all too clearly that he isn’t up to serving four more years in office. For the good of the country, more even than their party, Democrats have some hard thinking to do about whether they need to replace him at the top of their ticket. . .

“Mr. Biden lost the debate in the first 10 minutes as he failed to speak clearly, did so in a weak voice, and sometimes couldn’t complete a coherent sentence. His blank stare when Donald Trump was speaking suggested a man who is struggling to recall what he has been prepped for weeks to say, but who no longer has the memory to do it.”



The editorial declared that “The president’s faltering effort allowed Mr. Trump to win the debate. . . The former president was strong on inflation and the economy. . . He rightly nailed Mr. Biden’s policies as the main inflation culprit.”

The editorial also notes that “The former president was coached to keep his cool and stick to hitting the Biden record, and for the most part he did. . . but Mr. Trump also ducked question after question [including whether he supports the formation of a Palestinian state] . . .

“But the bitter truth for Democrats after [the debate] is that Mr. Trump’s liabilities may not matter if Mr. Biden is the party nominee. . . Trump at least looked vigorous and reminded voters of [his successful] pre-Covid economy. Mr. Biden looked like a feeble man no American should want going head-to-head with Mr. Putin or China’s Xi Jinping. . .

“All of this presents Democrats with an excruciating choice. . . A Biden withdrawal would create some temporary panic as Democrats seek a new nominee. Vice President Kamala Harris isn’t the answer. But others would come to the fore as [substitute] candidates. . .”

The editorial then concludes, “Mr. Trump is counting on Democrats to stick with Mr. Biden, but the country deserves a better choice.”

A Washington Post editorial goes into more detail in describing how the process of choosing a substitute for Biden as a presidential candidate might work. It begins by admitting that, “Mr. Biden bowing out would not guarantee a Democratic victory in November. . . It’s notable that Republican challengers prevailed in 1952 and 1968 after Presidents Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson both opted not to seek reelection. In the second case, the Democratic convention — also in Chicago that year — descended into chaos amid protests over the war in Vietnam. The party wound up nominating Johnson’s vice president, Hubert H. Humphrey. . .”



“[Because] Mr. Biden clinched enough delegates to win the Democratic nomination three months ago, the only way Democrats can nominate someone else at their convention in Chicago seven weeks from now is if the president chooses to step aside [voluntarily].

“Finding a suitable replacement this year, at the last minute, would be more difficult than it was in 1968, and the eventual candidate could emerge politically wounded, as Humphrey did. Mr. Biden has papered over schisms in the Democratic coalition — between progressives and traditional liberals, democratic socialists and socially conservative minority voters — that would instantly widen into chasms at an open convention. . .

“The best scenario… would be for the party to invite several interested candidates to consider running and ask them to spend [the remaining time before the convention] in a series of debates. The convention would then be thrown open to these candidates. The deciders would be Democratic convention delegates, not primary voters. But the process would be transparent.”

To work smoothly, the process that the Washington Post envisions for replacing Biden would also require the willingness of Vice President Harris to join an open race and not assert her right to automatically succeed Biden at the top of the Democrat ticket.

However, the Washington Post editorial board is also convinced that the Joe Biden who showed up to debate Donald Trump last week was “no match on the split-screen. Making a credible case against Mr. Trump requires a vigorous opponent. Mr. Biden didn’t just suffer a senior moment or two. He repeatedly failed to rebut Mr. Trump’s fire hose of falsehoods.”

Nor is the editorial board convinced that Biden’s “occasional good performance,” can reduce voter fears about his mental acuity and physical stamina in the four months now remaining before Election Day. After issuing a warning that “little good ever came from panicking,” the Washington Post editorial concludes, “Mr. Biden cannot be coerced into doing something he doesn’t want to do. Nor should he be. What he can do is what many Americans are doing. . . wondering whether he is up to the job.”



Biden’s shockingly inept debate performance caused some of the post-debate commentators on CNN to speculate about the reasons why Biden and his family decided over Thanksgiving weekend on Nantucket Island in 2022, shortly after celebrating his 80th birthday, to let him run for a second term.

Biden had campaigned for president in 2020 as a transitional figure. Two months after he entered the White House, in March 2020, Biden said, “I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else,” clearly implying that he would willingly step aside to make way for a younger Democrat leader at the end of his first term in office.

But two years later, despite his age, Biden still felt healthy and strong. He had succeeded in passing several landmark pieces of legislation on his liberal policy agenda despite Republican opposition. Democrats had also done much better than had been expected in the 2022 midterm elections, capturing control of the Senate and coming close to doing the same in the House, making it easier, at least in theory, for Biden to pass the remaining pieces of his liberal legislative policy agenda. Biden first told reporters “My intention is that I run again [for a second term],” a day after the midterms, and then added, “but I’m a great respecter of fate, and this is, ultimately, a family decision.”

Biden was also concerned at that time that Donald Trump and his followers were still in control of the Republican Party, posing what Biden and his supporters had convinced themselves was a serious threat to American democracy. Biden actually told Democrats attending a Boston fundraiser last December. “If Trump wasn’t running, I’m not sure I’d be running.”

With the political wind of the times at his back, enjoying the support of his family, including especially his wife, Jill, and his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and believing that he was the Democrat candidate best prepared to defeat Donald Trump, Biden felt that he had an obligation to run for a second term in order to “finish the job” he had started and to complete his presidential legacy.

However, Biden’s biographer, Chris Whipple, author of the book, The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House, said he was not surprised by Biden’s decision to run again. “He’d spent his whole life trying to get there,” Whipple told the Washington Post. “He was certainly not going to walk away from the opportunity to fulfill the work he’d started in his first term. And I think that’s just the nature of people who reach that job.”



According to the speculation by the CNN commentators, shortly after his decision to run for a second term was made, the age-related deterioration in Biden’s physical and cognitive sharply accelerated. However, his rapid decline remained largely hidden from view, because Biden’s wife and his White House staff went to extraordinary lengths to shield him from public scrutiny.

The White House virtually eliminated occasions such as press conferences and interviews, which would require Biden to speak publicly without a prepared text, or to respond spontaneously to reporters’ questions that had not been reviewed and cleared in advance, because these were when Biden was most likely to make his most serious gaffes.

Nevertheless, veteran Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, who, along with Bob Woodward helped to uncover the Watergate scandal which forced President Richard Nixon to resign in disgrace 50 years ago, said that he had been aware of more than a dozen incidents before last week’s debate in which made it clear that Biden’s cognitive abilities had been seriously compromised.

There was also no way that Biden could hide his weaknesses during last week’s debate with Trump. When the Biden campaign made its original public offer to hold two debates with Trump, it had inserted various conditions that it believed would prompt Trump to reject the proposal. But when Trump unexpectedly accepted the proposal as is, the Biden campaign found itself unable to object to the conditions which ultimately exposed their own candidates’ fatal weaknesses.

The rule forbidding the use of a prepared script or notes to read from, combined with the pressure to turn his memorized campaign talking points on the fly into coherent answers to the questions put to him by the debate moderators, triggered Biden’s meltdown in front of the national television audience. It came as a rude shock, not only to the American people, but also to many of Biden’s own Democrat supporters, who had previously been unaware of the full extent of his recent cognitive deterioration.

It became obvious at the very start of the debate, when Biden shuffled onto the stage and started speaking in a raspy voice, that the candidate was in trouble.



There had been some advance warning signs that the Republicans would try to use the pre-existing public concerns over Biden’s age to their advantage. Ever since Biden took office, Republican operatives had been collecting video clips of Biden tripping on the stairs of Air Force One, stumbling over his words, especially while making spontaneous remarks, or looking dazed or lost during public events when he was not speaking. These clips would then be circulated on social media, along with the observation by Biden’s personal physician, Kevin O’Connor, that Biden’s shuffling gait was getting steadily stiffer due to his age, even though that would not interfere with his ability to function as president.

Even many Democrats who admired Biden performance as president admitted that they still felt uneasy about his age. This was reflected in an Associated Press poll released the day after April 25, 2023, when Biden formally announced his re-election bid, which found that only 47% of Democrats wanted him to run again,

Republicans had been predicting that Biden’s camp would find it much harder in 2024 to shield him from the rigors of the campaign trail than in 2020, when the Covid pandemic provided him with the perfect excuse to run a video campaign almost entirely from the comfortable basement of his Delaware home.



But that did not happen during the primary stage of the 2024 election cycle because the Democrat National Committee was effective in first scaring off all of the popular potential Democrat rivals for the nomination, then by refusing to schedule any primary debates for the benefit Biden’s remaining rivals, and then by re-organizing the primary schedule to make South Carolina instead of Iowa and New Hampshire the first state in the country to vote, where Biden’s overwhelming victory due to the support of the state’s black leaders was assured.

It therefore came as no surprise that until very recently, Biden’s 2024 campaign had him doing very little traveling to meet voters across the country, except for his carefully staged appearances at major campaign fundraising events to greet his wealthy donors from Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Wall Street.

The Biden campaign had recently stepped up the president’s travel schedule only after it became concerned over polls showing him losing significant support among black and Hispanic voters who had been critical to his narrow victory over Trump in 2020. But it had been believed that Biden would appear at last week’s debate both well-prepared and well-rested after having spent a full week in isolation at Camp David with his staff to get ready for the event, in contrast to Trump who did very little during the same period in the way of formal debate preparation. That was another reason why the outcome of the debate was so surprising.

While Biden often found himself tongue-tied and frustrated during the debate trying to express his rehearsed talking points coherently, Trump seemed to be relaxed and in full control during the debate, answering only the questions from the moderators that he wanted to answer, and frequently circling back, using his speaking time to hammer home his main criticisms of Biden on key issues for voters, such as inflation and the consequences of Biden’s open border policies. Trump also refused to allow Biden to goad him into making angry comments which might have turned off sensitive voters, with the main exception being the time during the debate when Trump reacted strongly to Biden’s crude accusation that the former president was a “convicted felon” with the “morals of an alley cat.”



At other times, Biden got completely bogged down in trying to explain his campaign talking points and wound up speaking in gibberish. For example, early in the debate, when Biden was talking about his recent executive order which has reduced the number the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border by 40%, he concluded by saying, “And I’m going to continue to move until we get the total ban on the – the total initiative relative to what we’re going to do with more Border Patrol and more asylum officers.”

When one of the debate moderators then asked Trump to respond, the former president said, “I really don’t know what he [Biden] said at the end of that sentence. I don’t think he knows what he said either.” Trump then added that by the end of his own presidency, “we had the safest border in the history of our country. . . All he [Biden] had to do was leave it.”

Biden also got tangled up in his own words in trying to explain how his proposed increase in federal taxes on the wealthy would solve the problem of the national debt.

Biden said, “What I’m going to do is fix the taxes.

“For example, we have a thousand trillionaires in America — I mean, billionaires in America. And what’s happening? They’re in a situation where they, in fact, pay 8.2 percent in taxes. If they just paid 24 percent or 25 percent, either one of those numbers, they’d raised $500 million — billion dollars, I should say, in a 10-year period.

“We’d be able to right — wipe out his debt. We’d be able to help make sure that — all those things we need to do, childcare, elder care, making sure that we continue to strengthen our healthcare system, making sure that we’re able to make every single solitary person eligible for what I’ve been able to do with the Covid – excuse me, with dealing with everything we have to do with.

Look, if — we finally beat Medicare. . .”

At that point, Biden’s allotted two minutes of speaking time in answer to the question expired, mercifully allowing the debate moderators to cut off his microphone.

Then, using his rebuttal time, Trump pounced on Biden’s last words, declaring, “Well, he’s right: He did beat [Medicare]. He beat it to death. And he’s destroying Medicare, because all of these people [immigrants] are coming in, they’re putting them on Medicare, they’re putting them on Social Security. . .

“This man [Biden] is going to single-handedly destroy Social Security. These millions and millions of people coming in, they’re trying to put them on Social Security. He will wipe out Social Security. He will wipe out Medicare. So he was right in the way he finished that sentence, and it’s a shame.”



Biden tried to shift the blame to Trump for the ruinous spike in inflation which was actually triggered by Biden’s $1.8 trillion deficit spending measure, known as the American Families plan, which was passed at the president’s behest by congressional Democrats in March, 2021. It was ostensibly intended for Covid relief and stimulus, but most of the wasteful spending was unnecessary because by that time the American economy was already well on its way to recovery.

Biden also sought to blame Trump for the massive unemployment caused by the pandemic shutdown and for supporting the extension of his 2017 tax cuts for the wealthy. Biden also falsely accused Trump of supporting cuts in Social Security benefits, and stoking inflation by imposing new tariffs on imported goods.

While most of the discussion on the debate stage focused on domestic policy issues, such as inflation, border security, taxes and alleged threats to American democracy, there was some attention directed to foreign affairs, including the ongoing wars in Ukraine and Gaza and the need for the U.S. and its NATO allies to cooperate in opposing the axis of evil consisting of Russia, China and Iran.

Biden and Trump continued to clash over the scope of U.S. aid for Ukraine in fighting off the Russian invasion, and the appropriate size of the U.S. contribution to NATO’s common defense. During the debate, Biden defended his actions supplying Ukraine with $175 billion in military aid since the Russian invasion started in February 2022, and in getting, “50 other nations around the world to support Ukraine, including Japan and South Korea.”

On the other hand, Trump suggested that Biden had unintentionally “encouraged Russia” to invade Ukraine through the signals of weakness sent by the botched withdrawal of U.S. troops that Biden ordered from Afghanistan in May 2021. “[Biden] was so bad with Afghanistan, it was such a horrible embarrassment,” Trump said. Later in the debate, he called the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan “the most embarrassing day in the history of our country.”

Trump declared, “If we had a real president, a president that was respected by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, he would have never invaded Ukraine.” He also promised that if elected president in November he would “settle” the war between Russia and Ukraine before his inauguration in January, without explaining how he intended to do it.

He also warned that Biden’s foreign policies “will drive us into World War III, and we’re closer to World War III than anyone can imagine.” That prompted Biden to respond that, “[If] you want World War III? Let [Trump] win and let him tell Putin to do whatever. . . he wants to [leave] NATO.”

Biden complained that Trump “has no sense of American democracy,” and also condemned his statements “that somehow, we are a failing country. I’ve never heard a president talk like this before. We are the envy of the world,” Biden declared.



Both candidates declared their support for Israel as it battles Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in the North, but to different degrees and in different ways.

Biden said that he and Israeli Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu are in agreement on the latest three-stage cease-fire and hostage exchange plan that is currently on the table and which Hamas has rejected.

As a result, Biden declared that, “The only one who wants the war to continue is Hamas,” while adding that the terrorist group has been “greatly weakened” and “should be eliminated,” as long as Israel continues to be “careful [about fighting] in populated areas.”

Biden also rejected Netanyahu’s recent accusation that the U.S. is delaying the delivery of weapons that Israel needs. He insisted that the only weapons currently being withheld are a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs, which, Biden said, “don’t work very well in populated areas” and “kill a lot of innocent people. We are providing Israel with all the weapons they need and when they need them.”

Trump declared that Biden is wrong because “Actually, Israel is the one who wants to keep [the war] going [until Hamas is defeated]” and that “we should let them go and let them finish the job.” He also said that Biden doesn’t want Israel to finish the job, “He’s become like a Palestinian. But they don’t like him, because he’s a very bad Palestinian. He’s a weak one.”

Trump also asserted that Hamas wouldn’t have attacked Israel if Trump had been president on October 7, but did not explain why.

Asked by CNN moderator Dana Bash whether he would “support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in order to achieve peace in the region,” Trump dodged the question by saying, “I’d have to see,” before quickly pivoting back to criticizing Biden’s one-sided trade and military aid agreement with the European members of NATO.

RealClear Politics commentator Frank Miele, in his post-debate analysis, suggests that, defying expectations, CNN reporters, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash did not reveal “their own anti-Trump views. . . [and] may well have been the best debate moderators in the last quarter century, if not in the history of presidential debates altogether. They asked tough questions of both candidates, but more importantly, they did not interject themselves into the debate.”

Miele also admitted that, “I didn’t expect Joe Biden to be brilliant, but I had no idea just how bad he would be. From the moment he shuffled to the podium to his first response, when he appeared to be dazed and confused while speaking with a raspy voice that was probably the consequence of one solid week of debate prep, it was clear that Biden would lose the debate if not the presidency. He couldn’t keep track of numbers or names, and his dead-eye stare was downright scary.”



Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan was similarly surprised by the dramatic outcome of the debate. She wrote, “It was as consequential as any presidential debate in history, and the worst night for an incumbent in history. It was a total and unmitigated disaster for Mr. Biden. It was a rout for Mr. Trump. It wasn’t the kind of rout that says: If the election were held tomorrow Donald Trump would win. It was the kind of rout that says: If the election were held tomorrow Donald Trump would win in a landslide. . .

“From the moment he shuffled out with a soft and faltering gait, you could see how much he has declined. He was pale and waxy, and there was something almost furtive in his gaze. His voice was hoarse and feathery, with no projection. His answers were scrambled, halting. At some points he made no sense. At some points he seemed out of it.

“Mr. Trump came across as calm, sure-voiced, focused. His demeanor wasn’t insane. He was low-key but high-energy. He obeyed the rules, amazingly, to his benefit. He showed respect for the moderators. If not quite genial he was collected. . .

“In the split screen, when not talking, Mr. Biden’s face seemed to freeze, sometimes in unfortunate loose-jawed expressions.

“Mr. Trump was self-disciplined and knew his arguments. . . He scored Mr. Biden on inflation, and the disastrously executed withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

While Noonan accuses Trump of playing “fast and lose” with the facts he cites, she also observed that, “he’s the one who’ll have made sense to people. You could hear him and understand what he was saying. He seemed focused. He didn’t seem unstable [and] he didn’t seem insane.”

On the other hand, Noonan suggests sadly, that “allowing [Biden] to go forward [as a presidential candidate] at this point looks like elder abuse.

“At the very least,” she adds, “you can be sure that Donald Trump will never bother to debate Joe Biden again. He doesn’t have to. He’ll be only too happy to leave it exactly where it is.”



Bari Weiss, the former op-ed editor and writer for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, who is now writing for the Free Press, notes that last week’s debate “was not just a catastrophe for President Biden. . .  It was more than that. It was a catastrophe for an entire class of experts, journalists, and pundits, who have, since 2020, insisted that Biden was sharp as a tack, on top of his game, basically doing handstands while peppering his staff with tough questions about care for migrant children and aid to Ukraine.”

Weiss also notes that “many of the very people who say they are shocked by Biden’s [poor debate] showing were exactly the people who were covering for him.”

Weiss adds, “Those around the president — Jill Biden, certainly, but also all those savvy [White House] staffers — should have encouraged Biden to bow out gracefully after his first term. Because what happened [at the debate] was heartbreaking. It debased Biden as a man. It was also alarming — the person we saw onstage is our commander-in-chief. He holds the nuclear football. [And] it wasn’t just Americans who watched his performance last night.”

That observation is also an answer to Claire McCaskill’s question about, “how did we get here?” It is because of those Biden administration officials and party leaders who repeatedly assured us after each publicly observed presidential stumble or verbal gaffe that “Joe is fine,” when they knew that wasn’t true.

They knew that the during re-election campaign events, Biden was always flanked by minders, lest he stumble physically or verbally, in what the New York Times said was known jokingly by insiders as “Operation Bubble Wrap.” They knew he was receiving regular physical tests but not cognitive tests, for fear of what might show up. Their attempts to cover up the extent of Biden’s deterioration is at least partially responsible for the post-debate dilemma now facing the Democrats.



Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel noted that in sharp contrast to Biden’s performance, Trump exceeded the expectations for him going into the debate. He remained tightly controlled and relentlessly focused on the key issues which he wanted to emphasize, while largely ignoring Biden’s attempts to make Trump lose his temper.

But Strassel’s fellow Wall Street Journal columnist, Barton Swain, writes that we should not have been surprised by Trump’s better than expected debate performance, because, “In recent months, Mr. Trump’s remarks at rallies have been more or less focused, bereft of the deliberately provocative stuff of 2016.”

Tens of millions of viewers watching the debate at home did not have to be political science experts to appreciate what was going on. A flash poll of viewers conducted by CNN and released later that night called Trump the winner over Biden by a 2-1 majority, but it was not immediately clear how many votes that perception would change in Trump’s favor in the larger presidential race opinion polls to be taken in the days ahead.

However, in the days leading up to last week’s debate, Trump was already slowly extending his narrow lead in the polls over Biden. That includes the latest, closely watched New York Times/Sienna survey released the day before the debate, in which Trump’s head-to-head advantage over Biden had grown to four points compared to just one point in the April survey. The same poll also found that 70% of the registered voters interviewed believed that Biden was “just too old to be an effective president.”

According to the Biden campaign’s original debate proposal, a second debate with the same ground rules is scheduled for September 10, to be hosted by the ABC network. If that debate does take place, Biden will get a second chance to show that last week’s poor performance was just an aberration. But if Trump is still leading in the polls by a significant margin at that point, many political observers would not be surprised if he refuses to give Biden that opportunity.



In the meantime, Democrats have been doing their best to try to convince voters to ignore Biden’s terrible debate performance, which strongly suggests that he is incompetent to serve a second term as president. Instead, the Democrats are trying to shift the emphasis of debate news coverage to the liberal media fact checkers who have sought to turn every exaggerated statement or claim by Donald Trump into a lie, while at the same time giving Biden a pass, as usual, on his many mis-statements and factual errors during the course of the debate.

Over the weekend, Biden’s senior campaign officials and the leading Democrats still supporting Biden’s candidacy were largely successful in halting the spread of calls by worried party mega-donors and liberal political pundits for Biden to drop out of the race before they reached the party’s national leadership. However, the situation will remain fluid until new polls make it clear just how much damage was done by Biden’s poor debate performance to his own candidacy.

Another unnamed Democrat strategist expressed the fear to a Washington Post reporter that Biden may not be able to recover from the age-related concerns raised by his debate performance in the same way that he could from a normal political policy issue. After experiencing a bad night on the campaign trail, the pundit explained, the candidate can tack to the left, tack to the right, or tack to the middle on the policy in question in order to satisfy his voters’ preferences. “[But] when you’re just old, you can’t tack young. You can’t change the perception. You put it on display on TV in front of the whole country. You can’t fix that display. You can’t [recover from] that,” the pundit said.



There is also party concern about the impact of Biden’s debate fiasco on other down-ballot Democrat candidates in competitive races in purple and red states across the country, where Biden is behind Trump in the current polls, and may already be a drag on their campaigns. Many of these Democrats on Capitol Hill have been struggling to avoid panic while waiting to learn whether Biden’s name will appear at the top of their ticket this November.

Simultaneously they are trying to decide just how closely they want Biden to be identified with their own campaigns. They all fear that if Biden does poorly against Trump in November because of the age issue, he might create a powerful “political undertow” that could bring their campaigns down to defeat along with his. Meanwhile they have been trying to avoid Washington reporters seeking to ask them if they think Biden should give up the nomination in light of his debate meltdown.

According to the Washington Post, Republican operatives in Montana working to defeat the state’s Democrat senator, John Tester, and in Ohio, working to defeat that state’s Democrat senator, Sherrod Brown have already been publicizing previous public statements by both senators personally attesting to Biden’s mental fitness and competence to function as president.

There were also media reports of a lot of anger among House Democrats with Biden campaign officials the morning after the debate, for having demanded ground rules which did not permit Biden to read from a prepared text or notes, and then failing to prepare him appropriately to deal with the consequences. They were naive to believe that Biden could get away with minimal personal exposure as he did for four years in the 2020 campaign, when all he had to do was make a few appearances under carefully controlled conditions, which would not require him to expose his age-related potential weaknesses.



In addition to the battle for the White House, Democrats are fighting to retain their slim 51-49 majority in the Senate and to win back the majority control in the House which they narrowly lost in the 2022 midterm election. With Senate Democrats facing a difficult political map in which they will be forced “to run the table” in order to maintain their current Senate majority, and Biden’s candidacy now clearly in danger, Democrat party leaders have signaled their intention to throw the lion’s share of their resources into the campaigns of their House candidates in an effort to prevent Trump and the Republicans from capturing control this November of the White House and both houses of Congress, enabling the GOP to politically dominate the entire federal government.

Biden went into last week’s debate slightly but consistently behind Trump in the national polls, and by significantly larger margins in many of the battleground states he won four years ago. If Biden were to lose much more ground to Trump in the new polls, party leaders may decide that forcing him to step aside for a viable consensus candidate who can bring out more of the party’s voters on Election Day may be the only way for them to avoid a much wider Democrat disaster in November.

However, if Biden does not agree to step aside willingly, or even if he does, and Kamala Harris then demands the nomination in his place, the back-room deal-making and political in-fighting at the August Democrat National Convention in Chicago could get very ugly, as it did in 1968, severely damaging the party’s prospects for years to come.



Beyond Harris, the list of potential Democrat replacements for Biden on the November ballot is already very long. According to veteran Washington Post reporter Dan Balz, they include California Governor Gavin Newsom, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Maryland Governor Wes Moore, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro (who is Jewish), Biden Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, Biden Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Colorado Governor Jared Polis — among others.

Aside from Vice President Harris, who is already very unpopular in her own right, and Buttigieg, who competed with Biden for the 2020 nomination, but has been subject to much criticism for his leadership at the Transportation Department, they all start out sharing the same lack of nationwide name recognition and are untested in the presidential arena, especially against a candidate as formidable as Donald Trump.

Because of their inexperience, or their existing political baggage, in the cases of Harris and Buttigieg, their candidacies would each carry sizable political risks, and they will have very little time to establish themselves as viable presidential alternatives to Trump in the minds of voters before Election Day. But Democrat leaders now have only themselves to blame for having waited too long before asking themselves whether conceding their presidential nomination to an 81-year-old Joe Biden, against the known wishes of many of their voters, was a good idea.

If Biden does remain at the top of the Democrat ticket, the onus will fall directly on him to convince dubious voters that he currently is and will be both mentally and physically capable of performing his duties as president for another four years, when he will be 86-years-old. That will not be an easy task in light of Biden’s unsatisfactory debate performance last week.

On the other hand, Trump and his team were clearly energized by the outcome of last week’s debate in Atlanta. He did not act like the same Trump who lost the first debate in 2020 because he interrupted Biden constantly. To that extent, Trump clearly benefitted from the rule that Biden demanded muting the microphones of the candidate who did not have the floor in the debate. Trump also appeared to be effective in delivering his prepared talking points with enough consistency and force to make them effective in reaching the debate’s large nationwide television audience.

While Trump’s tendency to hyperbole kept the media’s fact-checkers busy throughout the debate, Biden attempts to highlight some of Trump’s misstatements during the debate were neither crisp nor specific enough to have much of an impact on those in the television audience who were undecided before the debate, the pollsters’ focus groups showed.




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