Weak performance in TV debate fuels doubts about Biden’s presidential candidacy

After US President Joe Biden’s weak performance in the first TV debate of the election year with Donald Trump, US Democrats are extremely worried. The TV debate raised the question within the party as to whether it was too late to replace the 81-year-old Biden with a younger candidate four months before the presidential election, the New York Times reported on Friday. Other media reported a real “panic” among the Democrats. Biden and Trump wanted to continue their election campaign with major events on Friday.

Biden, like his opponent, did not hold back on harsh attacks in the debate on Friday night at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, calling Trump a “failure” and a notorious liar, but overall he did not seem to be at his best. He faltered more often and stuttered, while the 78-year-old Trump seemed much more energetic and focused.

This was even acknowledged to some extent by Biden’s Vice President Kamala Harris. She said Biden had a “slow start” but then had a “strong finish.” The President himself drew a positive conclusion: “I think we did well,” he said while visiting a waffle restaurant after the debate.

However, a CNN poll found that 67 percent of viewers saw Trump as the winner of the duel. Biden – at 81, the oldest president in US history – spoke in a hoarse voice during the 90-minute debate and repeatedly got tangled up in his wording. He also left sentences unfinished and stared with his mouth open while his opponent spoke.

According to his campaign team, the president was suffering from a cold. However, Biden’s appearance fueled doubts in his own Democratic camp as to whether he is fit enough for a second term. It was a “really disappointing evening” for the president, admitted Biden’s former communications director Kate Bedingfield. In the polls for the presidential election, Biden and Trump were neck and neck before the TV debate.

The Federal Government’s Transatlantic Commissioner, Michael Link (FDP), said after the televised debate that he still thought it was possible to replace the US Democrats’ presidential candidate. The Democrats would have to “decide at their party conference in mid-August” whether they really wanted to run with Biden in the election, Link told the “Tagesspiegel”. His party colleague Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann went a step further: “The Democrats must react immediately and put a new candidate into the race,” Strack-Zimmermann told the “Rheinische Post”.

CDU foreign policy expert Norbert Röttgen also demanded in the “Spiegel” that the Democrats must “change tack now”. A government spokesman remained tight-lipped, but emphasized the good relationship between Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Biden.

Trump once again spread numerous blatant false claims, such as alleged electoral fraud in his 2020 defeat to Biden and an alleged dramatic increase in violent crimes by migrants who entered the country illegally. Trump did not give a clear answer to the question of whether he would accept the outcome of the upcoming presidential election. Instead, he made the reservation that he would only recognize the result “if it is a fair and legal and good election.”

The likely Republican presidential nominee also repeatedly attacked Biden harshly, calling him “the worst president in the history of our country,” but he controlled his facial expressions while Biden spoke and was generally less aggressive in his attacks on his rival than he was during his campaign rallies.

The deep personal animosity between Trump and Biden – who have not yet been officially nominated as presidential candidates by their parties more than four months before the November election – was more than clear in the debate. They refrained from shaking hands right from the start.

Biden highlighted that Trump was the first former US president in history to be criminally convicted in the New York trial for covering up a hush money payment to former porn actress Stormy Daniels. He said his opponent had the “morals of a street cat”.

Biden again described his rival as a risk to the country’s constitutional order, in view of his massive attempts at election interference after his 2020 defeat and the storming of the Capitol by fanatical Trump supporters in January 2021: “This guy has no sense of American democracy,” he said.

The TV debate was celebrated in Trump’s camp. Longtime Republican campaign adviser Keith Nahigian called Biden’s performance “the worst I’ve ever seen.”

The badly damaged Biden wants to get his re-election campaign back on track at a major event in the contested state of North Carolina on Friday. Trump is scheduled to appear in the neighboring state of Virginia.