Friday, June 28, 2024

BTRTN: Democrats at DefCon One… Biden Has an Epic Fail, and Panic Ensues

It was the worst-case scenario: both candidates validated our gravest worries about their liabilities. Biden appeared old, weak, and muddled, and Trump is more of a pathological liar than ever. God help us.

Well, that was about as depressing as it gets.

In the first Presidential Debate of the 2024 cycle, Joe Biden had an epic fail.

Biden had endless phlegm in his throat. He was tentative at times, rushed at others. Sentences trailed off. He stuttered. He paused, appearing to lose his thread. He droned in a monotone. The timbre of his voice was thin. He spoke in lists, not in terms of vision and passion. He appeared shriveled and diminished behind his podium.

He let Donald Trump put him on the defensive, and he was not able to fight back.

No question: Donald Trump was far more vigorous and more energized than Joe Biden. It’s the oldest saw: debates are decided by visual appearance, not by policy discussion or political philosophy.

By that measure, Donald Trump won the debate by a mile.

The problem: Donald Trump was lying every time he opened his mouth.

Trump was so extreme, so exaggerated, and so buffoonish in his claims about the wonders of own Presidency -- and so absurd in his egregious accusations about Joe Biden -- that moderate Americans likely saw him clearly for the carnival barker that he is.  Trump did not come close to winning the debate.  Biden lost it.

CNN did nothing to rein in the madness. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash let Donald Trump fling utterly unsupported assertions for the entire night. They abdicated any responsibility for ensuring that assertions made on their network have a basis in reality.  

All three parties to this debacle – Trump, Biden, and CNN – succeeded only in measuring the degraded state of our political dialog.

The evening created grave concern among Democrats that Joe Biden is not hearty enough to be President, and yet also undoubtedly raised concern among independents that Donald Trump does not have the honesty, character, demeanor, or integrity to be President.

Suddenly, all bets are off.

CNN’s Jon King started the post-debate analysis by saying that his phone was lighting up all night long with major Democrats in full panic, screaming Def Con One and calling for Biden to step aside. Van Jones, the staunchest defender of Joe Biden in television news, damn near threw in the towel, acknowledging that there would be calls for Biden to “take another path.”

My God, what a mess. Don’t ask me who won last night.

All I know is that we all lost.


Joe Biden is a good man. He has had a successful first term in office by many measures, achieving important bipartisan legislation at home and building vital alliances to sustain Ukraine in its war with Russia. His economic policies have threaded a needle of tamping inflation without triggering recession.

Last night, when Joe Biden was able to articulate his positions and policies, they were sound.  Compared to Trump, who literally constructed a fantasy world of utterly preposterous assertions and brazen deceits, Biden was grounded, solid, informed and truthful.

But the instances in which Biden was forceful, compelling, concise, and clear in defense of his policies were in the minority.

Everyone knows how this game works.

Presidential debates have always been a high wire act: candidates are keenly aware of the existential danger of a single gaffe, and that in a single, brilliant moment, one candidate can mortally wound his opponent.  On October 6, 1976, Gerald Ford said “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration.” Poof! So long, Jerry.  Ronald Reagan said “there you go again” to Jimmy Carter, and made light of Walter Mondale’s “age and inexperience.” Neither recovered.

It only takes one moment of plutonium-grade toxicity in a presidential debate to bring down a candidacy.

Sadly, it must be reported that Joe Biden’s performance last night was not just one moment. It was an entire evening… it was the Chernobyl of Presidential debates. He was simply unable to do anything to shut down the fire hose of bellicose, brazenly deceitful self-aggrandizement flowing from the former President. He let Trump define the debate, and Trump defined a fantasy world in which his Presidency was perfect, and Joe Biden has ruined all the greatness of the Trump administration.

Trump could not contain his own need to phrase everything in the most extreme form.  He could not escape his own personal psychosis of projecting each of his own failings onto his opponent. The two classics of projection: Trump literally said that “everything Joe Biden says is a lie,”  and “what this man has done is absolutely criminal.” Trump grew more brazen as the night went on, ever needing to one-up his own bile of loathing for Biden, literally making up completely unsupportable claims. Here is but a sampler of Trump's deranged assertions:

“Joe Biden is the worst President in the history of the country.”

“He wants our country to be destroyed.”

“If he wins this election, we won’t have a country left.”

“He wants to raise your taxes by four times. He wants to raise everybody’s taxes by four times.”

“Biden takes money from China.”

“So that means he can take the life of the baby in the ninth month and even after birth, because some states – Democrat-run – take it after birth…So he’s in – he’s willing to, as we say, rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month and kill the baby.”

“His military policies are insane. We are closer to WW III than ever.”

“I had the highest approval rating for veterans, taking care of the V.A. He has the worst.”

“And yet, during my four years, I had the best environmental numbers ever. And my top environmental people gave me that statistic just before I walked on the stage, actually.”

“Ukraine would have never started if I was President.”

“Our veterans and our soldiers can’t stand this guy…They think he’s the worst commander in chief, if that’s what you call him, that we’ve ever had…And they like me more than just about any of them. And that’s based on every single bit of information.”

“We are a failing nation.”

When Trump was reminded of some of his worst quotes (for example, that those who served in World War II were “suckers and losers,” or that “Hitler did some very good things”), Trump simply claimed that the quotes in question were made up.

The more bombastic, irresponsible, reckless, and foolish Trump’s character assassination went effectively unchallenged, the more Trump doubled down.  Trump sensed that the evening was going his way and remained generally composed, never succumbing to the childish screaming rants and interruptions that characterized his 2020 debates. But his constant hectoring of Biden, and the utterly unfounded charges of corruption, criminality, failure, and incompetence reinforce his own negative narrative as a nasty, deceitful, hopelessly self-involved delusional. Again: Trump did not win. Biden lost.


Whether it is fair or not isn’t really the issue. The problem is that Biden’s performance profoundly reinforced the single greatest concern most Americans carry about Biden: that an 81-year-old man – and this 81-year-old man in particular -- cannot handle the brutal rigors of the Presidency of the United States.

When any debate gaffe or weakness appears to reinforce a core concern, its impact is multiplied as if on a Richter Scale. When an entire evening reinforces that concern, a narrative forms. In the echo chamber of the 24-hour news cycle, the narrative is repeated so frequently and so intensely that it takes on its own reality. It becomes a snowball racing down a mountainside, gaining both mass and velocity.

For the next week to ten days, Joe Biden is going to be taking many, many calls from Democrats. The calls for him to step aside will grow louder.

Moreover, the media will find the story line irresistible: video clips of Biden’s worst moments will populate the airwaves for weeks. Pundits will speculate: which Democratic leaders could convince Joe to step aside? What process could the Democrats use to choose an alternative candidate? Rules for an open convention will be discussed. Campaign donations may sag, which will pour kerosene on the fire.

Then, it will become the story.

Black Democrats may speculate that if Biden steps aside, the nomination should automatically default to VP Kamala Harris. Black Democrats may have their loyalty tested when they discover that very few people in the party share that view.

As potential names are floated, polls will be taken that will show that younger potential Democratic candidates – Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer, Amy Klobuchar – are much more likely to beat Trump than Biden. If Biden has not reached a decision to step aside, such polls could become overwhelming.

The bottom line: after a night like this, it becomes very hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

You can expect that Joe Biden is going to spend a great deal of time on the phone in the next week. He’s a tough guy, a fighter. He’s likely to try to toss it off as an off-night.

But Democrats pride themselves on being the party of facts, objectivity, and reality. And the new reality is that Joe Biden’s re-election bid was just dealt a devastating and potentially existential blow.

Yes, presidential debates do change history.

I’m a Joe Biden fan. Readers of BTRTN know that I’ve spent months telling readers to stop whining and get to work to re-elect Joe Biden.

But above that, I am a political realist. The real story tonight, for anyone who could see it, was not Joe Biden. It was that we absolutely must defeat Donald Trump in November.  The man is unstable, delusional, morally bankrupt, cruel, and yes, very capable of destroying our democracy.

Re-electing Joe Biden is not how I’d phrase the objective.

Our objective is to defeat Donald Trump.

If last night made clear that someone else may have a better chance of beating Donald Trump than Joe Biden, then maybe this debate was not the utter disaster that it feels like at 12:38 a.m. on Friday, June 28.

We should all allow a few days to pass rather than race to a rash decision. Let’s hear what Joe Biden has to say. Let’s see polls of how people reacted to this debate.

Then let’s be fair, and let’s be smart. There’s a right answer.  We must never be afraid to find it.



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  1. Great insights and conclusion. Thanks!

  2. Both candidates confirmed the impressions of those supporting their opponent. Neither candidate did much to attract additional support from the "undecided" or "persuadable."

    Republicans strengthen their emulation of the 3 monkeys as they "see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil" about Trump.

    Democrats melt down in a variety of sloughs -- the well-known "slough of despond," and the lesser-known sloughs: of despair, of misery, of pain and suffering (Steven King), and of Frankenstein's "slough of multifarious knowledge." Seems like so many mirror that last one: "I was occupied by exploded systems, mingling, like an unadept, a thousand contradictory theories and floundering desperately in a very slough of multifarious knowledge, guided by an ardent imagination and childish reasoning. . ."

    I'm not an expert on campaign law ... yet I've not read anyone who is deal with the legal standards of delegates pledged to Joe Biden in the various states' laws. Nor has anyone explained how money raised for Joe Biden could be "transferred" to the party or another candidate, and if there is any chance or protest or delay.

    Most of all, no one is explaining how this year would be different than the other times in recent history when a national candidate has withdrawn (Pres. Johnson in 1968, Sen. Eagleton in 1972). Democrats lost. In 1968, the Electoral vote was 301 for Nixon, 191 for Humphrey, and 46 for Wallace. In 1972, things were even worse: 520 for Nixon, 17 for McGovern.


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