Joe Biden’s TV debate: Thanks, Joe, for everything – but please stop!

Joe Biden saved his country and the world from Donald Trump in 2020. Four years later, he is too old and too tired to do it again. Someone needs to tell him that urgently, otherwise disaster will loom.

US presidential debates are not events where facts are negotiated or political drafts are laid out. These 90 minutes – often the only time when many voters really tune in – are about something else. It is about the feelings that candidates arouse. Determination, for example, and also sympathy, for example on the important question of whether Americans want to let this man or woman into their living room virtually every evening for four years. Joe Biden aroused a feeling on stage in Atlanta on Thursday evening. But one that no candidate for the White House has evoked before: pity.

Biden, 81, didn’t just look old. So does Donald Trump, 78. Biden looked ancient, he seemed confused, his voice was brittle and often barely audible. He had taken about a week off to prepare for the debate, to rehearse catchy sentences that could wound Trump, and certainly also to rest. But Biden appeared on stage in Atlanta as if he were already exhausted from this preparation – afterward, one almost wished him, keyword pity, that he could hopefully catch his breath again.

Many Americans think Joe Biden is too old

Is it age discrimination to write sentences like that? Maybe. But these sentences are necessary, as brutal as they sound. The man is not running for the presidency of a retirement home. He is the current President of the United States of America, the most powerful man in the world, ruler of the most powerful army on the planet. He wants to hold this office for another four years. Biden would be 86 years old in his last year in office. Before this debate, more than two-thirds of Americans thought Biden was too old for re-election. Will that be 100 percent now?

Worse still, doubts about Biden’s competence and age have been dismissed in the past, by his team, but also by other heads of government who met with him, such as Chancellor Olaf Scholz. They always suggested that the public was not seeing the real Biden, who governs decisively and makes decisions. Videos showing him disoriented were manipulated. But after this public appearance, one wonders: Can this man still govern at all?

Of course, Biden’s team will now try to explain. His advisers will point out that Ronald Reagan once had a miserable TV debate, after which he was considered too old and then returned triumphantly. (Reagan was almost a decade younger than Biden is now.) They will point out that Trump has hardly eliminated a major weakness – his credibility – with a performance full of lies. They can cite snap polls according to which the debate did not influence many voters in their voting decision (although even a few people changing their minds could be enough to make the decision). Some even suggest putting more of the spotlight on the (admittedly very unpopular) US Vice President Kamala Harris.

All of these are excuses. Biden was already behind in many polls before this debate, mainly because of the age issue, which is now the new focus. He had to win in Atlanta, but he lost disastrously. The Democrats cannot win with this candidate. They cannot subject this man to another term in office – nor can they subject the world to Trump. If they want to retain a shred of responsibility as a party, they must persuade Joe Biden to retire.