Election 2024: Biden’s debate performance sparks panic among Democrats

ATLANTA (AP) — Above all, Joe Biden’s Allies wanted him to show strength and energy on the debate stage to help put to rest questions on the physical and mental acuity of the 81-year-old Democrat.

But on Thursday night, on the biggest stage in American politics, Biden failed to meet their modest expectations.

And at the end of the 90 minutes strong testthe Democratic president’s allies — party strategists and rank-and-file voters — descended into a full-blown panic after a debate punctuated by repeated stumbles, awkward pauses and a quiet, often hard-to-understand speaking style. Publicly and privately, Democrats wondered whether the party could or should replace it as the party’s presidential candidate against former Republican President Donald Trump, 78, this fall.

“I’m not the only one who’s heartbroken right now. There are a lot of people who watched this tonight who have suffered terribly for Joe Biden,” former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said on MSNBC. “I don’t know if there’s anything that can be done to fix that.”

Update on the Biden-Trump debate

  • Debate was a critical moment in the presidential rematch of Joe Biden and Donald Trump to make their case in front of a national television audience.
  • Look at has facts around false and misleading claims frequently made by both candidates.
  • The two candidates didn’t waste any time dispute over politics during their 90-minute faceoff. Here are the key points to remember:.

For now, the biggest question for Biden is whether the damage is permanent. Many voters have yet to watch an election that is more than four months away. The president and his allies are sitting on millions of dollars that have yet to be spent on advertising and infrastructure in key states. And there is precedent for recovering from rocky debate performances, including Barack Obama bounce back after an uneven encounter with Mitt Romney in 2012. Democrat John Fetterman beat a Republican rival in 2022 after to struggle in a debate several months after suffering a stroke.

Biden’s Gamble

Biden’s 2024 re-election campaign was always based on a bet that voters would end up backing a longtime 81-year-old politician with low approval ratings in a rematch few Americans want. Despite these responsibilities, Biden’s team insisted he was in a unique position to prevent Trump from returning to the White House — just as he did four years ago.


President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Friday, June 28, 2024, in Marietta, Ga., after participating in a presidential debate in Atlanta on Thursday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

They have long predicted that Biden’s winning political coalition would eventually embrace the Democratic president after enough reminders of Trump’s chaotic leadership. But there were few signs of such confidence following Biden’s disappointing performance in the debate.

“It was a slow start. It’s obvious to everyone. I’m not going to debate this,” Vice President Kamala Harris said. said on CNN after the debate“I’m talking about the choice that will take place in November. I’m talking about one of the most important elections of our collective life. »

Biden’s spokespeople were slow to enter the post-debate room in Atlanta. And when they finally emerged, they largely avoided questions from the press. Instead, they denounced Trump’s long list of lies during the debate. Among other things, Trump did not disavow those lies. who attacked the Capitol January 6, 2021.

Governor of California Gavin NewsomA potential presidential candidate who was Biden’s most prominent surrogate in the Atlanta press room, urged Democrats not to panic.

“I don’t think it’s helpful. And I think it’s unnecessary. We have to go, we have to hold our heads high,” Newsom said in an interview on MSNBC. “We must support this president. We don’t go back because of a performance. What kind of party does this? »

Signs of Anxiety

President Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump were right to mix things up on politics — and each other — during their first presidential debate of the 2024 campaign.

Yet signs of anxiety emerged as Democrats began openly encouraging the party to find an alternative to Biden. Some party officials pointed to a social media post by former Obama campaign aide Ravi Gupta.

“Every Democrat I know is texting saying this is bad,” Gupta wrote on X. “Just say it publicly and start the hard work of creating space in the convention for a selection process. I’ll vote for a corpse over Trump, but it’s a suicide mission.”

Under current Democratic Party rules, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace Biden as the party’s nominee without his cooperation or without party officials being willing to rewrite its rules at the August national convention.

The president won an overwhelming majority of Democratic delegates in state primaries. And party rules state that “delegates elected to the national convention who have sworn an oath to a presidential candidate shall, in good conscience, reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.”

But the DNC rules don’t have the same strict rules on “faithless delegates” as the RNC, which ignores votes against a delegate that violates their pledged position.

Republicans, meanwhile, were stunned by Biden’s lackluster performance. But Trump’s campaign co-chief dismissed talk of whether Democrats would try to nominate someone other than Biden.

“There are so many political pundits on X, so we’re definitely going to hear from a lot of them in the coming days because they’ve all run so many campaigns,” Chris LaCivita said sarcastically. “But the only way that’s going to happen is if Joe Biden voluntarily steps down, and he’s not going to do that.”

Thursday’s debate could linger in voters’ minds for the foreseeable future, with Biden and Trump not expected to meet on the debate stage for another 75 days.

LaCavita said Trump would attend the next debate “with the bell on.” Biden campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz confirmed that Biden would also attend the rematch.

But privately, Biden’s advisers have suggested that the campaign will never be won or lost in a single meeting, a single conversation or a single debate. They discussed their intention to maintain an aggressive schedule in the coming weeks and months.

On Friday, Biden was scheduled to campaign in North Carolina while Harris was in Nevada.

Yet Biden supporters struggled to find any hope in the immediate aftermath of the debate.

“That was the worst performance in the history of televised presidential debates,” Tim Miller, a former Republican strategist turned ardent Biden supporter, said in the broadcast room, shaking his head in disbelief.


Miller reported from Washington. AP reporters Bill Barrow and Darlene Superville in Atlanta, Jill Colvin in New York and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

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