Biden, Democratic fundraisers sound debate alarm

“It’s terrible. Worse than I thought possible. Everyone I talk to thinks Biden should give up,” said the person, who was granted anonymity in order to recount private conversations.

CNBC began hearing concerns from Democratic campaign donors and fundraisers less than 20 minutes after the 90-minute debate hosted by CNN began.

“Game over,” said a longtime Democratic campaign adviser, who has raised money for congressional leaders for more than a decade and helped raise money for Biden’s 2020 White House bid.

“Biden has to go. He has to go now and if he doesn’t go we’re going to get crushed,” the adviser said. They told CNBC they plan to reach out to Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison on Friday to discuss what happened at the debate.

An adviser to a major Democratic donor called the debate a “complete disaster” for Biden. “Worse than (Ronald) Reagan in 1984 or (George W.) Bush in 2004 or (Barack) Obama in 2012,” they added.

Biden’s problems in the debate started early. He stumbled out of the door, seemed to lose his train of thought at times, and paused for a long moment before CNN moderators cut him off as he discussed health care in the United States.

“Making sure that we’re able to make every single person eligible for what I’ve been able to do with the, with the Covid, excuse me, to manage everything that concerns us, listen…” Biden said, trailing off.

“Look, if we finally beat Medicare,” Biden said, before CNN anchor and moderator Jack Tapper quietly moved on. “Thank you, President Biden,” Tapper said.

Several times later in the debate, the president repeated himself, or left several seconds of silence mid-answer. Throughout the evening, Biden’s voice was raspy and quiet.

Biden campaign co-chairman Mitch Landrieu told NBC News it was because the president had a cold. “I think because of the way people analyze debates, it will first be about physical performance,” Landrieu said.

Even Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledged that Biden was not in great shape. “Yes, the beginning was slow, but the end was strong,” she said Thursday night on CNN.

For example, in responding to a question about border security — a major concern for voters this election cycle — Biden’s sentence was grammatically difficult to follow.

“I’m going to keep moving forward until we get a total ban on the total initiative on what we’re going to do with more border patrol and more asylum agents,” Biden said.

Trump took advantage of these missteps. “I don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence. I don’t think he knows what he said either,” the former president joked.

Representatives for the Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Replacing Biden on the candidate list would be extremely difficult now, with less than two months until the Democratic National Convention in August. The president should effectively withdraw from the race, leaving the decision about the candidate to the delegates present at the convention.

“It was a really disappointing debate performance by Joe Biden, I don’t think there’s any other way to cut it,” Kate Bedingfield, former White House communications director in the Biden administration until 2023, told CNN.

“His biggest problem was proving to the American people that he had the energy, the stamina – and he didn’t do it,” she said.

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