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Biden’s Debate Performance Was Revealing

Summary:
Last night, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump faced off in Atlanta in what’s supposed to be the first of two presidential debates. Each man had essentially one job. Trump needed to appear stable enough to counter the characterization his opponents have built up of an unhinged maniac who is dead set on tearing the country down to nurse the hit his ego suffered in 2020. And Trump did a perfectly good job at that. Biden, on the other hand, needed to show his base, his top donors, and the nation’s undecided voters that, despite his age, he is physically and mentally capable of being president for another four years. That was his one job, and he failed spectacularly. The incumbent’s walkout was awkward, and he started stumbling in his very first

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Last night, President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump faced off in Atlanta in what’s supposed to be the first of two presidential debates. Each man had essentially one job. Trump needed to appear stable enough to counter the characterization his opponents have built up of an unhinged maniac who is dead set on tearing the country down to nurse the hit his ego suffered in 2020. And Trump did a perfectly good job at that. 

Biden, on the other hand, needed to show his base, his top donors, and the nation’s undecided voters that, despite his age, he is physically and mentally capable of being president for another four years. That was his one job, and he failed spectacularly. 

The incumbent’s walkout was awkward, and he started stumbling in his very first answer. His voice was quiet, he coughed often, and his face remained almost entirely inert when Trump was speaking. He also had trouble getting the numbers right in the many statistics he tried to bring up and completely lost his way on a handful of sentences he started. 

This may all seem petty, but remember, Biden’s only real job last night was appearing sharp and presidential enough to dispel the concerns about his old age. Nothing said on stage last night, by either candidate, was all that new or unfamiliar. And nobody seriously expects candidates to present comprehensive, nuanced plans for entirely solving all the country’s biggest issues, two minutes at a time. These debates are not about policy, they’re about optics. 

That’s why Biden’s team spent an entire week holed up at Camp David, preparing the incumbent for last night’s debate. The president spent seven whole days on a mock debate stage with over a dozen aides and advisors, gaming out responses to every Trump argument they could think of and helping him practice all aspects of his performance. 

President Biden was as prepared for this debate as a sitting president could ever hope to be, and it still went terribly. 

That has many raising doubts about whether what happened to Biden on that debate stage was really an accident. 

Such sentiments were stoked by the acknowledgment among many top Democrats and virtually all major establishment-friendly media figures that Biden not only had a terrible debate performance but is experiencing serious cognitive problems. In the days before the debate, all the way up until the opening remarks, these groups were totally aligned in calling such talk Republican propaganda that was made up and amplified by deceptively edited viral videos. 

Yet immediately after the debate, nearly everyone on the Democrat-friendly CNN and MSNBC post-debate panels was openly speculating about how Biden could be replaced. 

It’s understandable why many think this was coordinated. Are we really supposed to believe that all these people, including the advisors who spent a full week watching Biden practice, had no idea this would happen? And, further, why did the Biden-friendly pundits and high-level Democrats who have clearly had no issue denying and spinning the obvious signs of Biden’s decline in recent years all flip on a dime in unison? And remember, the Democrats asked for this debate.

But there are problems with the idea that what we saw last night was a high-level, coordinated takedown of Biden’s candidacy. Mainly, there are no clear replacements that will clearly perform better than Biden on election day. Biden’s vice president, Kamala Harris, is deeply unpopular with all but a few Democratic voting blocs. Yet, Democrats need those voting blocs onboard if they are going to win. Without an obviously strong, universally liked candidate, passing on Harris could prove fatal. 

And even then, Gavin Newsom — the closest thing Democrats currently have to such a candidate — is from the same state as Harris. That could cause problems thanks to the Twelfth Amendment. Hillary Clinton is still unpopular, and Michelle Obama has made it clear she has no interest in running. Any other option will lack name recognition, a serious problem this close to election day. And, on top of all that, any replacement plan relies on Biden willingly stepping aside — which he already refuses to do. 

So it could very well be the case that the best chance Democrats have remains rallying behind Biden, the candidate that almost all of them now admit is not mentally fit to be in office.  

This farcical situation is as revealing as it is absurd. 

Four years ago, Biden rode the wave of political exhaustion, that had swelled during the Trump years and crested through the pandemic, into the oval office. His campaign represented a promise to return to a government that works the way we all learned it did in elementary school. Where, through our choice at the ballot box, the president represents us and acts as we would act to address the problems we face at home and abroad. 

But that depiction is an illusion. Most of the federal government’s power lies in the hands of unelected officials and bureaucrats whom we don’t even get to pretend to choose. The fact that Biden is so obviously not the one running the country now exposes that illusion, and it hurts his effort to appear like he can and will run it for another four years. 


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