The Media Against Biden: Will He Step Down?

The president’s disastrous debate performance left everybody wondering: what comes next?

  • President Biden’s debate performance ignited a Democrat freak-out

  • Many Democrats in the media and beyond are demanding him to step down

  • Biden can either choose to stay in the race or step aside and have the Democratic Party nominate someone else during the convention

The story

On Thursday, President Biden and former President Trump faced off in the first presidential debate of the cycle. Right from the start, Biden looked confused, feeble, and genuinely unwell, especially in contrast to the relatively coherent and calm Trump. Biden unequivocally failed to convince the American people that he was mentally competent enough to retain his office.

His performance shocked Democrats, even those considered to be his close political allies. Immediately following the debate ensued a scramble to figure out what option the Democrats have now; many fear that Biden’s self-immolation means his campaign is over.

Democrats now have to figure out where to go from here. A Biden campaign official already told the press that the president will not drop out of the race, and although Biden's performance may have been shocking, it may not significantly move the needle; most Americans already know that the president is very old.

However, the Biden campaign's insistence that the president will continue is far from the whole story. If enough party insiders decide that the damage from Biden’s debate performance is unrecoverable, they may need to prepare for several scenarios that could abandon him in favor of a more palatable candidate — all within four months of the general election.

The politics

The New York Times published an essay in the middle of the debate that started, “Within the first half-hour of the presidential debate, I heard from three veteran Democratic presidential campaign officials, and all of them had the same reaction to President Biden’s performance: This is a disaster.” It continued, “By the end of the debate, I was hearing a level of anxiety and alarm from those Democrats and several other party leaders and operatives that I’d never seen in 20 years of covering presidential politics.”

An incredible amount of opinion essays continue to be published calling on President Biden to step aside because they believe he demonstrated his inability to take on Trump head-to-head and lead the nation forward.

Even Democrat officials are starting to come out with knives drawn against the president. Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch (D), who has been a big supporter of Biden, said, “I think we have some decisions to make as a party. We’ve got to have that discussion immediately.”

All this is to say, Democrats are spooked.

On the other hand, many are recognizing the unlikelihood and impracticality of President Biden stepping aside. Many have known about Biden’s mental condition for years, and Democratic voters chose him to lead the party over anybody else; whether they like it or not, they’re stuck with him.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) said on Friday, “I refuse to join the Democratic vultures on Biden’s shoulder after the debate. No one knows more than me that a rough debate is not the sum total of the person and their record.”

The options

What options do Democrats have now? First, there can be a large enough movement behind the scenes to pressure the president to step aside, and top Democrat strategists and donors have already been attempting to map it out.

Such a scenario would require top party brass like Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and even former President Barack Obama to publicly call for Biden to step away. These calls have not been heard yet, four days after the debate.

Second, and perhaps the most complicated scenario, would be for the president’s delegates and superdelegates to choose a new nominee if he were to step aside. Currently, Biden has 3,933 pledged delegates who would be free to vote for a new candidate.

Some of the potential options for the delegates are V.P. Kamala Harris, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI), or anybody else they think could win. However, being just over a month away from the Democratic National Convention, this path would throw the Democratic Party into turmoil when they need to project unity and strength.

The final path forward for President Biden and the Democrats would be to just move on from the debate performance and hope that it blows over. At this point in time, many are already figuring that Biden’s mental acuity is baked into the cake, so it may be too hasty to jump ship because of one bad night.

Former President Obama said as much on Friday: “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 and someone who only cares about himself.” Democrats know who Biden is and still consider Trump to be a major threat; as Obama put it, “Last night didn’t change that.”

Why it matters

After years of President Biden’s age being just one of many considerations, it has now become the primary focus of his re-election campaign. If Democratic Party insiders determine that Biden is becoming too much of a liability and his poll numbers drop too low, they might take the risk of forcing him out to find an alternative.

Alternatively, Democrats may be forced to bite the bullet and proceed with the candidate the people and the party have chosen, even after a national humiliation. By staying on message and trying to keep the focus on Donald Trump, the Biden campaign might have some fight left in it.

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