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Biden-Trump Was a Bombshell No One Expected

These 90 minutes were anticipated as a defining moment of the 2024 Presidential campaign. They proved to be a bombshell that few expected. Here is a survey of editorial comment from quarters that have been broadly supportive of Biden.

Trump Was the Trump We Know. Biden Was the Biden We Feared.
David Corn / Mother Jones

Minutes into the debate, without even checking with Twitter, you could tell what the reaction was going to be. There would be no way to spin this: a bad night for Biden and the Democrats. A debacle. And one didn’t need a crystal ball to know that there would soon be—maybe before the debate was done—renewed chatter about the possibility of replacing Biden as the Democrats’ nominee. (How that can happen without a complete mess is tough to envision. Would Vice President Kamala Harris inherit the nomination? If she went for it and was challenged by one or more candidates—California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer—would that lead to a civil war within the party and offend a key constituency: Black voters?)

Bill Clinton used to say that strong-and-wrong beats weak-and-right. With his performance on Thursday night, Biden created a perfect test case for that proposition.

Joe Biden Is a Good Man and a Good President. He Must Bow Out of the Race.
Thomas Friedman / New York Times

I watched the Biden-Trump debate alone in a Lisbon hotel room, and it made me weep. I cannot remember a more heartbreaking moment in American presidential campaign politics in my lifetime, precisely because of what it revealed: Joe Biden, a good man and a good president, has no business running for re-election. And Donald Trump, a malicious man and a petty president, has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. He is the same fire hose of lies he always was, obsessed with his grievances — nowhere close to what it will take for America to lead in the 21st century.

The Biden family and political team must gather quickly and have the hardest of conversations with the president, a conversation of love and clarity and resolve. To give America the greatest shot possible of deterring the Trump threat in November, the president has to come forward and declare that he will not be running for re-election and is releasing all of his delegates for the Democratic National Convention.

Trump Should Never Have Had This Platform
David Frum / The Atlantic
Ferocious controversy will probably now erupt over Biden’s leadership of the Democratic Party. We’ll hear all kinds of plans to swap him out somehow. Maybe those plans will be workable, but probably not. Through the uproar, it will be important to keep in mind that this election is not about Biden. It’s about you and your commitments and your values. Biden is just the instrument. Like any instrument, he’s imperfect. But better an imperfect instrument than a would-be autocrat who demands a cult of personality.

A century ago, the socialist leader (and presidential candidate) Eugene V. Debs rebuked followers who idolized him: “I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition.”

Was the Debate the Beginning of the End of Joe Biden’s Presidency?
Susan Glasser / The New Yorker
The news of the debate was not Trump saying crazy, untrue things, though he did so in abundance. It was Biden. The President of the United States, eighty-one years old and asking to be returned to office until age eighty-six, looked and sounded old. Too old. His voice was muffled. He lost his train of thought. He raced through answers. When Trump talked, the split screen showed Biden staring, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, in a way that made him look even older.

The question now is not so much about what kind of bounce Trump might get from Thursday’s debate but an even bigger one that we can’t quite answer yet: Was this the beginning of the end of the Biden Presidency?

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A Post-Debate Question: What the Hell Happened to Us?
Lz Granderson / Common Dreams

Even before Thursday’s debate, I felt palpable nervousness in Washington this week as we all began to sense that the worse candidate (Trump) could prevail over the bad candidate (Biden). I was there as the White House opened its doors to the LGBTQ+ community in celebration of Pride Month, and with this close election looming, it was hard not to think this could be the last White House Pride celebration for a while.

That’s what I was thinking about as I was coming to terms with the fact that America’s choices for president are between a very old man with a decent heart and a crazy old man with an axe to grind.

For the vast majority of us, that equates to picking the lesser of two evils.

But it’s not a close call for those of us who remember that past administrations have hunted down queer employees of the federal government and purged them from their jobs (the “lavender scare” of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s). Or that the Republican administrations of the ’80s and ’90s let us die in the streets during the AIDS crisis. There aren’t two evils to consider.

There’s only survival.

The Trump Biden Debate Disaster
Jeet Heer / The Nation 

The only plausible scenario is for the party’s ranking members of Congress and party elders such as Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton to converge on the White House to tell Biden to withdraw his nomination for the good of the party and the country (not to say the world). Kamala Harris would then become the party’s nominee and she could select a vice-presidential pick from among the party’s wide range of talent.

Those who still harbor fantasies of a brokered convention clearly haven’t been paying attention. The Democratic National Committee just moved the presidential nomination roll call up to August 7 so that Biden can get on the ballot in Ohio. Biden already has a total lock on pledged delegates, and even if he could be persuaded to release them, there is no process for adjudicating a successor.

Biden Bombed, But CNN Debate Moderators Set a New Benchmark for Cynicism
Adam Johnson / In These Times

After the first 2024 presidential debate wrapped up last night, seemingly all the pundits and commentators could talk about were the rumblings from inside the Democratic Party about President Biden potentially backing out of the race, given what appears to be almost unanimous consensus he failed to combat Donald Trump in any meaningful way.

At the risk of doing an, ​“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” it’s useful to document how conservative and facile these presidential debates are, because they serve as a useful window into mainstream media priorities — they distill what the corporate press thinks is important and what ideological assumptions they carry around in their nominally objective and above-the-fray status as Serious News People. 

Calls for Biden’s Withdrawal Are a Sign of a Healthy Democratic Party
Brian Klaas / The Atlantic

The reaction to last night’s presidential debate showed that America’s two major political parties are not remotely the same.

One has transformed into a cult of personality that continues to intensify its unwavering support for a presumptive nominee who is a convicted felon and habitual liar—a man who incited a violent mob to try to overturn an election, and whom courts have found liable for sexual assault and banned from doing business in New York. The other is in full-blown panic mode, considering whether an incumbent president should drop out of the race after he sounded frail in a debate.

Many Democrats are worried that the debate over Biden’s political future will have devastating consequences. The worst-case scenario for Democrats is to have an ugly, public rupture, in which swaths of the party call on Biden to drop out, others defend him, and he ultimately limps toward November after suffering from an intra-party battering. But the best-case scenario—an internal course correction, brought about by healthy questioning of the party’s leadership—could be very positive. The White House could be made to understand the urgent need to change its political strategy, or the party could produce an alternative nominee with, perhaps, a better chance of winning in November.

President Biden, I’ve Seen Enough
Nicholas Kristof / New York Times

President Biden is a good man who capped a long career in public service with a successful presidential term. But I hope he reviews his debate performance Thursday evening and withdraws from the race, throwing the choice of a Democratic nominee to the convention in August.

One of the perils facing this country, I believe and Biden believes, is the risk of a victory by Donald Trump. And after the debate, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that Biden remaining in the race increases the likelihood that Trump will move into the White House in January.

Biden’s Record Won’t Win Him the Election if He Can’t Make Sense for 2 Minutes at a Time
Chris Lehmann / The Nation

The urgent question before the Democratic Party is whether to keep Biden at the top of the ticket in what had been, prior to last night’s calamity, a closely fought election. But the person of Biden is less a cause of the party’s woes than a symptom. Biden, after all, can claim the same status that Hillary Clinton routinely did during her candidacy against Trump in 2016—that’s he’s preeminently qualified to be president, and that his long policy résumé and dealmaking track record in Washington are more than sufficient to earn voters’ trust for a second term. Clinton’s candidacy was perfectly summed up in its tone-deaf rejoinder to Trump’s campaign slogan: 

“America is already great,” with the unspoken disclaimer, “and we’re the people keeping it that way.”

The worship of credentialed achievement is a longstanding vice of the modern Democratic Party, going back to Adali Stevenson’s doomed egghead crusades against Eisenhower, and Michael Dukakis’ buttoned-down pitch as the “competence candidate.” But the glum moral of Biden’s disastrous debate performance is that the whole elaborate mythology of résumé-driven leadership is propping up a candidate who is clearly not qualified to be heading the party’s ticket in an election that the republic can’t afford for the party to lose.

Time To Go, Joe
Mark Liebovich / The Atlantic

The best part of this debate for Democrats is that it happened on June 27. There are nearly two months to go until the Democratic Convention in Chicago. If Biden has any sense of how he performed—and hopefully some tough love from those closest to him will make it abundantly clear—he will quit, and soon. It will be a mess to pick a replacement in eight weeks. Harris would have a natural advantage, but the Democrats should throw it open to all comers: Governors Newsom and Gretchen Whitmer, Senators Warnock and Amy Klobuchar, all the usual mentions and some surprises. See what happens in Chicago.

Democrats Can No Longer Pretend Biden Is Fit to Be President
Branko Marcetic / Jacobin

Biden may be resisting the mounting pressure from within the party and liberal establishment as of this morning, but persuading him to clear a path for someone else is a win for everyone involved. For the president, at serious risk of undoing what he sees as one of his chief accomplishments and bringing a now-radicalized, vengeful Trump back to power, it will rescue his floundering legacy. For the party, it gives them a fighting chance to win in November and an opportunity to reset.

But replacing Biden likely won’t be enough. Democrats would have to pair it with a drastic course correction, ending his unconditional support for Israel’s campaign of mass murder that has split the party and threatens to explode into a disastrous regional war any day now, while dropping Bidenworld’s insistence on running on nothing but fearmongering about Trump and taking a page from the Biden 2020 campaign instead to offer voters actual, bold ideas for how they will make people’s lives better.

The Democrats Must Dump Biden. Here’s How.
Harold Meyerson / The American Prospect

In my view, there is now no plausible way that Biden can defeat Trump. But there are plausible ways to defeat Trump with a different presidential nominee.

Now, it’s up to the Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Leader Hakeem Jeffries (or better yet, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi), former Presidents Obama and Clinton, all need to converge on the White House to tell Biden that his time is up, too, unless he wants to go down in history not as a president who enacted landmark legislation with the slimmest of congressional majorities, but as the man who handed America over to its first genuinely autocratic (not to mention vindictive and deranged) president. They probably need to be assisted in this task by the quiet urgings of Dr. Jill Biden; we must hope she understands that her husband’s reputation depends on his dropping his candidacy.

Here’s why it would be tough for Democrats to replace Joe Biden on the presidential ticket

Kamala Harris Could Win This Election. Let Her.
Lydia Polgreen / New York Times

Not long after the debate, Vice President Kamala Harris appeared on CNN with Anderson Cooper. Watching her calmly and methodically respond to a battering ram of questions from Cooper, it occurred to me: The obvious, logical path out of the mess President Biden created with his disastrous debate performance is for him to bow out with honor and endorse his young, vigorous and talented vice president to stand in his stead.

Letters from an American
Heather Cox Richardson
Tonight was the first debate between President Joe Biden and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and by far the most striking thing about the debate was the overwhelming focus among pundits immediately afterward about Biden’s appearance and soft, hoarse voice as he rattled off statistics and events. Virtually unmentioned was the fact that Trump lied and rambled incoherently, ignored questions to say whatever he wanted; refused to acknowledge the events of January 6, 2021; and refused to commit to accepting the result of the 2024 presidential election, finally saying he would accept it only if it met his standards for fairness.
Immediately after the debate, there were calls for Biden to drop out of the race, but aside from the fact that the only time a presidential candidate has ever done that—in 1968—it threw the race into utter confusion and the president’s party lost, Biden needed to demonstrate that his mental capacity is strong in order to push back on the Republicans’ insistence that he is incapable of being president. That, he did, thoroughly. Biden began with a weak start but hit his stride as the evening wore on. Indeed, he covered his bases too thoroughly, listing the many accomplishments of his administration in such a hurry that he was sometimes hard to understand. 

Bernie Sanders on Biden’s Performance: ‘Not terribly articulate to say the least’
Yash Roy / The Hill

In his first public comments since President Biden took to the debate stage last night, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the president failed to clearly articulate his achievements or vision for the future.

“I have to also be very honest with you and tell you that I think the president was not terribly articulate to say the least, and he was not focused,” Sanders said of Thursday’s debate, at a rally in Stevens Point, Wis. “He did not defend a very strong record.” 

The Stakes Are Too High to Keep Denying Biden’s Shortcomings
Luke Savage / Jacobin
For years, Democratic Party leaders have gaslit the public about Joe Biden’s fitness to lead. After last night’s debate, it's clear that the costs of keeping up the act are higher than the costs of admitting the truth and correcting course.

Whatever happens, last night’s train wreck is ultimately a searing indictment of a Democratic leadership so deferential to corporate America and so cynically hell-bent on resisting change that it was willing to lie to the entire country about its standard-bearer’s fitness to lead. The facade has finally cracked, and we’re now in for a crackup of epic proportions.

Joe Biden Is Facing the Biggest Decision of His Political Career
Walter Shapiro / The New Republic
After an uninspiring, wavering, hoarse-voiced debate performance in which he constantly failed to halt Donald Trump’s torrent of lies, it is time for Biden to face up to the reality of his 81 years. The president, away from his aides and enablers, should ask himself the blunt question: “Can I save American democracy by beating Trump?”

There are major risks to the Biden withdrawal scenario, which is why I have never taken it seriously until I endured the Atlanta debate. Whoever is the replacement nominee would have a serious learning curve, since running for governor in California or Michigan does not prepare you for the rigors of a four-month presidential race against a dangerous demagogue. But any major figure in the Democratic Party would bring more energy and effervescence to the race against Trump than the laudable, but worn-out, Biden.

90 Miserable Minutes of Biden v Trump
David Smith / The Guardian
That sickening thud you heard was jaws hitting the floor. That queasy sound you heard was hearts sinking into boots. That raspy noise you heard was a US president embodying what felt like the last gasp of the ailing republic.

Say it ain’t so, Joe.

The first US presidential debate in Atlanta on Thursday was the night that Democrats went from “Don’t panic!” to “OK, time to panic!” After months of preparation and expectation, they got to the altar and suddenly realised they were marrying the wrong man.

The True Losers of This Presidential Debate Were the American People
Rebecca Solnit / The Guardian
We didn’t need this debate. Because 2024 is not like previous election years, and the reasons it’s not are both that each candidate has had plenty of time to show us who they are and because one of them is a criminal seeking to destroy democracy and human rights along with the climate, the economy and international alliances. If you are too young to remember 2017-2021, this would not help you figure that out.

Much has been said about the age of the candidates, but maybe it’s the corporate media whose senility is most dangerous to us. Their insistence on proceeding as though things are pretty much what they’ve always been, on normalizing the appalling and outrageous, on using false equivalencies and bothsiderism to make themselves look fair and reasonable, on turning politics into horseraces and personality contests, is aiding the destruction of the United States.

Is There a Good Reason Not to Panic? Well, No, Not Really.
Michael Tomasky / The New Republic

The Democrats have always had three options. Sticking with Joe Biden always seemed like the least bad option. Last night, that changed.

Trump lied like crazy, sure. Nobody’s aborting a fetus after it’s born. “Everyone” did not want Roe overturned. Millions of people from prisons or mental institutions have not crossed the border. Food prices haven’t “quadrupled.” It went on and on—CNN’s fact-checker said he counted at least 30 outright lies. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash never stepped in to fact-check Trump. All that is true. But none of that changes the overwhelming fact. Biden confirmed Democrats’ worst nightmares. “We finally beat Medicare”? Dear God.

So: Is an abbreviated, multicandidate campaign even possible? Here’s a scenario. Biden drops out next week, releasing the delegates he’s amassed during the primaries to do whatever. Candidates announce—Harris, the governors I named above (along with a few others, like Kentucky’s Andy Beshear), Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, maybe another senator or two. Throughout July, they have an intensive schedule of debates. Six or seven. Over the course of those debates, some will rise, some will fade. In early August, in time for Ohio, let the rank-and-file decide via electronic vote. Make all the contenders commit to supporting the process and standing 100 percent behind the winner.

The Great Democratic Freakout Is Upon Us
Karen Tumulty / Washington Post

It will be difficult for even the most creative spinners in President Biden’s camp to manufacture a victory narrative out of his dreadful performance at Thursday night’s debate against his predecessor, Donald Trump.

Which means the anxieties that Democrats have had all along about Biden’s decision to run for a second term will come to the fore, along with far-fetched scenarios in which he might be compelled to step aside. There will no doubt be talk of throwing open the Democratic convention in Chicago in August to pick a new nominee.

But the turmoil that would create would be catastrophic. Biden and Trump are the candidates that each party has cast its lot with — a choice that polls consistently show is the most distasteful one that Americans have faced in modern history.