Politics

Biden’s disastrous debate pitches his reelection bid into crisis.

If Joe Biden loses November’s election, history will record that it took just 10 minutes to destroy a presidency.

It was clear a political disaster was about to unfold as soon as the 81-year-old commander in chief stiffly shuffled on stage in Atlanta to stand eight feet from ex-President Donald Trump at what may turn into the most fateful presidential debate in history.

Objectively, Biden produced the weakest performance since John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon started the tradition of televised debates in 1960 — then, as on Thursday, in a television studio with no audience.

Minutes into the showdown, hosted by CNN, a full-blown Democratic panic was underway at the idea of heading into the election with such a diminished figure at the top of the ticket.

Biden’s chief debate coach, Ron Klain, famously argues that “while you can lose a debate at any time, you can only win it in the first 30 minutes.” By that standard, the president’s showing was devastating. The tone of the evening was set well before the half hour.

It is too early to say how voters will respond and whether the president can rescue himself. But Biden barely beat Trump in key battleground states in the middle of a pandemic in 2020. His approval rating was below 40% before the debate, when he was at best neck-and-neck with his rival in the polls. It would only take a few thousand voters to desert him to put Trump back in the White House.

There has been no public sign that Biden is unable to fulfill the duties of the presidency, which include tough decisions on national security. He has just returned from two grueling foreign trips, for instance. But on Thursday’s evidence, his ability to communicate with the country – and even to sell his own vision for a second term – is severely compromised.

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If the debate was the president’s best chance to turn around a tight race with Trump, which has him in deep peril of losing reelection, it was a failure. Biden ended the night with the Democratic Party in crisis with serious conversations taking place behind the scenes among senior figures over whether his candidacy is now sustainable, two months before the Democratic National Convention.

Trump’s task on Thursday was to avoid playing into Biden’s claims that he’s “unhinged” and is therefore unfit to return to the Oval Office. He largely did so as he got out of the way while the president was damaging his own campaign. The presumptive Republican nominee’s unaccustomed restraint, however, did wear thin later in the debate.

But in one devastating moment, after yet another Biden waffle, he said: “I really don’t know what he said at the end of that sentence. I don’t think he knows what he said, either.”

The ex-president didn’t avoid his own disqualifying issues. He was uncouth and divisive. He spouted outrageous falsehoods about his own presidency, his attempt to steal the last election, and sometimes lapsed into gibberish himself, especially when asked about climate change. He blatantly lied about his role in the mob attack by his supporters on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The twice-impeached convicted felon repeatedly declined to say that he would accept the result of the 2024 election if he lost and made sweeping, vague and often illogical claims that US enemies overseas would bend to his will just because of his personality. The former president also struggled to parry Biden’s arguments that he’d slash taxes for rich Americans and leave workers struggling, and he was wobbly on policy, just as he was in the White House.

By the time the aged rivals slipped into a bitter debate about who was the best golfer, it was not hard to understand why voters have long told pollsters that they want no part of the choice they have been offered this year.

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