Biden Crashes, Trump Lies: A Campaign-Defining Presidential Debate

Yves here. The presidential debate last night is likely to go down as being of historical importance, in the same league as the Kennedy-Nixon debate. But here, instead of demonstrating how the then-young medium rewarded good looks and a confident affect, here it showed two men, which as often happens with the aged, having become even more of who they are, and not in a good way.

There is no way Biden will be in office for a second term after last night’s performance. As blinkered as Biden himself is, too much rides on having at least a semi-functioning incumbent, and voters and donors realize that. Reagan’s Alzheimer’s was not apparent when he ran for a second term and stayed well-hidden. But a big reason why was his strong Cabinet, something Biden abjectly lacks. The members of his top team, in their various ways, are more often than not as weak as he is.

That does not mean Trump will be president. He could choke to death on a burger or suffer a George Wallace or worse assassination attempt. Or perhaps the Democrats will do the seemingly impossible and rally successfully around a last-minute contender like Jay Pritzker or Gretchen Whitmer. But odds considerably favor he will be back in the White House.

I suspect Lambert will cover the panic in the Democratic party and suddenly-perceived-to-be-urgent need to usher Biden out as quickly and gracefully as possible and settle on a viable replacement candidate with a minimum of infighting.

Even though some Twitterati and no doubt other commentators were speculating that party operatives had put Biden up to this debate in order to sink him, that does not appear probable. It appears Biden has surrounded himself with yes-men and bites the heads off those who dare to oppose him. The tweet below was extracted from June 26 New York Times story, Joe Biden: The Old-School Politician in a New-School Era.

So even if the idea of an early debate did not originate with Biden, it seems improbable that he was railroaded into it.

The very end of the debate provided a sad image of Biden’s frailty:

Yet the Financial Times reports that Biden thought he put in a fine performance. Is this an effect of the meds?

But Biden seemed undeterred, telling reporters at a late-night stop at a Waffle House restaurant in Atlanta: “I think we did well.”

Asked about calls for him to step aside, and whether he had any concerns about his debate performance, Biden — who said he had a “sore throat” — replied: “No. It’s hard to debate a liar.”

In today’s Links, Lambert featured a story from Axios, Democrats may want to replace Biden, but it’s his call. Key sections:

The big picture: Biden already has almost all of the pledged delegates at the Democratic National Convention because of state primaries he has won. Those delegates must vote for Biden on the first ballot unless he withdraws beforehand.

  • Democrats plan to undergo their formal nominating process weeks before their Aug. 9 convention, so new candidates would have to emerge before that virtual roll call.
  • To win the Democratic nomination on the first ballot, a candidate needs a simple majority of the estimated 3,933 pledged delegates. Biden has well surpassed that threshold.

Reality check: It’s incredibly unlikely that Biden agrees to step aside as the Democratic candidate.

As Betty Davis warned, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Now to the main event.

Update 10:30 AM EDT. Just as this post fired, The Hill published White House, Biden campaign slam replacement chatter after debate. From the story:

President Biden’s campaign aides and top surrogates scrambled Friday to shut down talk he might drop out of the race following a disastrous showing at a debate with former President Trump.

A campaign official dismissed talk of Biden withdrawing, while top Democrats viewed as potential successors to Biden worked to stamp out any talk of replacing the president.

And the Russians are running out of missiles, yes siree!

Biden has to get through a second debate. Perhaps his team still believes in better living through chemistry.

By Mary Kate Cary, Adjunct Professor of Politics and Director of Think Again, University of Virginia and Karrin Vasby Anderson, Professor of Communication Studies, Colorado State University. Originally published at The Conversation

With four months to go until Election Day, the earliest-ever general election debate featured two presidents – one current, one former – and a lot of bitter personal attacks. Joe Biden’s universally acknowledged poor performance surprised and even panicked Democrats; Donald Trump gave a more forceful – if not truthful – performance.

The Conversation asked two scholars, Mary Kate Cary and Karrin Vasby Anderson, to watch the debate and analyze a passage or a moment that stood out to them. Anderson is a communications scholar with a specialty in gender and the presidency, as well as political pop culture. Cary teaches political speechwriting and worked as a White House speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush, for whom she wrote more than 100 addresses.

Karrin Vasby Anderson, Colorado State University Department of Communication Studies

One of the first definitions of good public speaking I learned as a college debater and student of rhetoric came from the ancient Roman scholar and rhetoric teacher Quintilian. In his 12-volume “Institutio Oratoria,” Quintilian said the ideal orator was a good person, speaking well. He was particularly concerned about the danger that a skilled rhetorician who lacked character could pose to society.

A presidential debate ought to showcase ideal orators – skilled speakers who are also people of character. The June 27 debate offered voters an either-or scenario.

Former President Donald Trump was aggressive, confident and disciplined, but he peppered his remarks with a steady stream of lies, half-truths and misinformation. President Joe Biden focused on Trump’s documented record – both criminal and political – but failed as an orator, demonstrating none of the charisma and command on display during his most recent State of the Union address just four months ago.

The contrast was clear early in the debate when CNN’s Dana Bash asked Trump whether he would block access to abortion medication. Trump said that he would not. He then falsely claimed that, in the lead-up to the 2022 Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade and removed the federal protection for abortion rights, “everybody wanted to get it back to the states, everybody, without exception.”

Trump then went on offense, accusing Democrats of taking “the life of a child in the eighth month, ninth month, even after birth.”

Biden’s response was initially clear and resolute: “It’s been a terrible thing, what you’ve done,” he said. And he pushed back against the preposterous claim that “everybody” wanted Roe v. Wade overturned, saying, “the idea that states are able to do this is a little like saying we’re going to turn civil rights back to the states (and) let each state have a different rule.”

But the rest of Biden’s response was muddled. After “veering inexplicably” into an anecdote about a woman murdered by an undocumented immigrant, Biden expressed his support for people’s right to choose by saying on three separate occasions that the decision should be up to a doctor, rather than the pregnant person.

Trump closed out the segment by reiterating his blatant lie in stronger terms: “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.” The Associated Press’s fact check of this claim is succinct: “Infanticide is criminalized in every state, and no state has passed a law that allows killing a baby after birth.”

After nearly a decade of exposure to Trump’s habitual misinformation, lies about states murdering babies may not stand out as shocking in a presidential debate. And, certainly, it’s an argument that should have been easy for Biden to refute.

But if the populace must choose between a good person and someone who spoke well, Quintilian would remind us that someone who speaks well but has no integrity is dangerous.

The consequences for the republic could be dire.

Mary Kate Cary, University of Virginia Department of Politics

I think America just saw history being made.

Within 10 minutes, a very hoarse President Joe Biden, was asked about deficit spending, lost his train of thought, and ended his answer by muttering something about “beating Medicare.” It was awful.

There were so many moments when Biden looked confused and unable to process what was happening. I took notes on key exchanges, but the number of embarrassing episodes, unfinished sentences and incoherent phrases by Biden is too long to list. His answer on why he should be president in his 80s somehow veered into computer chips being made in South Korea.

Former President Donald Trump made his own share of missteps, but overall, he was relatively sharp, and restrained when he was provoked. He scored some points on the issues and did much better than he did in their first debate four years ago. Trump did better than I think many people thought he would.

Our assignment tonight was to find a moment to react to and put it in context. I’ve been to multiple presidential debates and watched many more on television over the years, and have never seen anything like this.

Is there any way the Democrats can convincingly argue for keeping Biden as their nominee?

The bottom line: Moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash did a good job of asking substantive questions and keeping control of the debate; Trump missed an opportunity to knock it out of the park but got through it; and Biden will most likely have caused a disaster for the Democratic Party.

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