Biden debate performance triggers panic, replacement talk

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign was in full damage control mode Friday as the president sought to recover from a disastrous debate showing with Donald Trump that triggered panic among Democrats and even murmurs about replacing the 81-year-old on the White House ticket.

The verdict on Biden’s performance from party strategists and across the mainstream media was unanimous and damning, labelling the debate a “political disaster” and highlighting the “consternation” within the party ranks with the election a little over four months away.

“Democrats wake up to nightmare” ran the headline in Politico.

Thursday evening’s showdown with Trump had been touted as an opportunity for Biden to allay qualms about his advanced age and fitness for office, and to publicly paint his rival as an existential threat to US democracy.

Instead, his hesitant, faltering delivery, which saw him repeatedly tripping over words and seemingly losing his train of thought, not only underlined concern about his ability to serve another full term, but raised the question of whether he should even remain the party nominee.

Throughout the 90-minute face-off, Biden struggled to counter a typically bombastic performance from Trump who seemed energized and forceful in comparison as he delivered — unchallenged — a highlight reel of false or misleading statements about everything from the economy to key electoral issues like immigration.

A split screen often showed Biden staring, open mouthed as Trump held forth.

“There are no two ways about it — that was not a good debate for Joe Biden,” Democratic former White House communications chief Kate Bedingfield told host network CNN as the curtain came down on the matchup.

– ‘Heartbreaking’ –

Maria Shriver, a former first lady of California and prominent member of the Democratic Kennedy dynasty, delivered what almost amounted to a eulogy on Biden’s reelection hopes.

“I love Joe Biden. I know he’s a good man,” she posted on X.

“Tonight was heartbreaking in many ways. This is a big political moment. There’s panic in the Democratic party.”

Both candidates return to the campaign trail Friday, with Trump holding a rally in Virginia and Biden heading to the battleground state of North Carolina.

Even as the critics were plunging their knives into his performance in the hours after the debate, Biden insisted he had done “well” as he stopped off at a Waffle House with First Lady Jill Biden.

He attributed his raspy-voiced delivery to a “sore throat” and added that, in any case, it was “hard to debate a liar.”

But as the disappointment over Biden’s showing registered with Democrats, there was talk of finding a new candidate before the party’s convention in August.

The New York Times said Democrats — including members of his own administration — traded “frenzied” phone calls and text messages as the debate unfolded.

Some also “privately discussed among themselves whether it was too late to persuade the president to step aside in favor of a younger candidate,” the paper added.

– Replacement nominee? –

So far, no senior Democratic figure has publicly called on Biden to withdraw, with most toeing a clear party line about sticking with the existing ticket.

“I will never turn my back on President Biden,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom, who has figured prominently on multiple lists of possible replacement candidates.

“I don’t know a Democrat in my party that would do so,” Newsom told reporters in the spin room after the debate.

Analysts say forcing a change in the ticket would be politically fraught and Biden would have to decide himself to withdraw in order to make way for another nominee before the party convention.

A strong — but not automatic — candidate to take Biden’s place would be his vice president, Kamala Harris, who loyally defended his performance Thursday while acknowledging he had made a “slow start.”

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