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Biden’s Poor Debate Against Trump Prompts Democrats to Try to Limit Damage

Published: June 30, 2024
(Image: U.S. President Joe Biden attends the first presidential debate hosted by CNN in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., June 27, 2024. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo)

On Thursday, June 27 President Joe Biden and his Republican rival Donald Trump sparred in the first 2024 presidential debate hosted by the broadcast network CNN. The Democratic nominee struggled to stem a barrage of attacks and claims from his rival Trump.

The Biden campaign had hoped that a well played debate would quell concerns among voters that the 81-year-old is too old to serve a second term in office.

Instead, Biden stumbled over his words and lost his train of thought at times, especially early in the debate.

One Biden donor called his performance “disqualifying” and predicted that Biden should step aside, in favor of another candidate before the party’s national convention in August. Panicking Democrats exchanged messages wondering whether Biden would consider stepping down.  

One senior Democratic strategist said there would be calls for Biden to step down.

One such plea came from Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist who has the president’s ear, who called Biden a good man and a good president. “The president has to come forward and declare that he will not be running for re-election,” he wrote.

Biden campaign co-chair Mitch Landrieu on CNN said “It’s not likely to happen,” as he predicted Biden and Trump would be the nominees in November anyway.

Josh Shapiro, the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, urged Democrats to stop worrying. “Joe Biden had a bad debate, right, but Donald Trump was a bad president,” Shapiro said.

Interviews with undecided voters confirmed that it was a bad night for Biden. They described his showing as feeble, embarrassing and difficult to watch. 

White House officials said mid-debate that Biden had a cold, reflecting his aides’ anxiety about his performance.

Vice President Kamala Harris conceded that Biden had a “slow start” but argued that his record over 3-1/2 years as president outweighed one 90-minute event.

California Governor Gavin Newsom dismissed the notion that Biden could be replaced. Newsom could be the leading Democratic alternative if Biden stepped aside.

Trump, 78, has also faced questions about his fitness for office, given his conviction last month in New York for covering up hush money payments.

The country is deeply polarized, and a majority of voters have expressed concern that political violence could follow the election.

Trump is scheduled to be sentenced in New York on July 11, just days before his party convenes to formally nominate him. He still faces three other criminal indictments, though none appears likely to reach trial before November.

With opinion polls showing the race in a dead heat going into the debate, even a small shift could alter the campaign’s trajectory.

Biden stopped for food on his way back to the campaign trail, telling reporters, “I think we did well.” Asked whether he had any concerns about his performance, he said, “No. It’s hard to debate a liar.”

Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to Democratic President Barack Obama, wrote on X : “Telling people they didn’t see what they saw is not the way to respond to this.”

Clashes

The two candidates clashed on Thursday (June 27) over the economy, abortion, immigration and the wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

Trump also stated that the results of the 2020 election were fraudulent, that some Democrats support infanticide, and that migrants who entered the United States illegally have carried out a wave of violent crime.

Biden struggled to respond to his predecessor in real time, showing evident difficulties.

Biden landed some blows during the debate, calling Trump a felon and noted that the majority of Trump’s former Cabinet have declined to endorse his campaign.

“This guy has no sense of American democracy,” Biden said during a segment on the Jan. 6 attack. He also blamed Trump for enabling the elimination of a nationwide right to abortion by appointing conservatives to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On immigration, Trump’s strongest issue, the former president accused Biden of failing to secure the southern U.S. border, ushering in scores of criminals.

The two candidates’ intense dislike for each other was in plain view throughout the debate, starting when they did not shake hands as they took the stage.

Biden called Trump a “whiner” and a “child” who, he said, cheated on his wife with a porn star and had the “morals of an alley cat.” Trump said Biden was a “disaster” and a “Manchurian candidate” taking money from Communist China.

At one point, the debate devolved into a fight over which man had a better golf game.

The second and final debate in this year’s campaign is scheduled for September.

Reuters contributed to this report.