Time to Go, Joe


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President Joe Biden needs to end his campaign. The first presidential debate, held last night, was a disaster. It was clear from the outset that Biden looked old, sounded old, and yes, is in fact very, very old.

This has been rumored for a while. Last night, it was confirmed.

Panic seemed to set in among Democrats within minutes of the candidates taking the stage—on social media, at shell-shocked “watch parties.” Full freak-out mode was achieved by the 20-minute mark.

Biden’s voice kept trailing off, and he kept getting lost in his train of thought. Donald Trump was sneering and lying. He said a bunch of stuff that made no sense—about club championships, cognitive tests, the whole farce of it. It didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered in this debate was Biden: his hushed and halting voice. His befuddled resting face. He looked like he wanted to be in bed. Or maybe every Democrat in America was just projecting. People kept sending me vomit emojis, among other things.

Aides soon leaked that the president had a cold. Whatever. He hasn’t looked this bad in public for years. It was painful to watch, and it’s not getting better. The whispers were polite, deferential for a while. Eighty-one? Really? Is he up to this?

Clearly not. Biden needs to step aside, for the sake of his own dignity, for the good of his party, for the future of the country. This debacle of a debate was a low point. It needs to be a turning point.

At least expectations for Biden were extremely low going in. At best, he met those expectations. At worst, well—when I surveyed the social-media chatter at 11:30 p.m., a large majority of people sympathetic to Biden seemed to be taking the under.

“At Least No One Is Accusing Biden of Using Drugs,” read one headline in New York magazine. In Atlanta, California Governor Gavin Newsom and Georgia’s Senator Raphael Warnock were immediately asked in the post-debate “spin room” whether Biden should step aside, as many have already suggested. “Absolutely not,” Newsom said.

“This night was a total disaster for Biden,” tweeted the former Republican congressman and ubiquitous Never Trumper Joe Walsh. “He looked way too old. He looked like he’s no longer capable.” Walsh added that every word out of Trump’s mouth was a lie and he remains a direct threat to democracy, “but Trump won this debate going away.”

Even Vice President Kamala Harris, speaking on CNN, declined to address questions about her boss’s performance except to acknowledge that “it was a slow start.” (In fairness, Trump’s former vice president isn’t even supporting him.)

The best part of this debate for Democrats is that it happened on June 27. There are nearly two months to go until the Democratic Convention in Chicago. If Biden has any sense of how he performed—and hopefully some tough love from those closest to him will make it abundantly clear—he will quit, and soon. It will be a mess to pick a replacement in eight weeks. Harris would have a natural advantage, but the Democrats should throw it open to all comers: Governors Newsom and Gretchen Whitmer, Senators Warnock and Amy Klobuchar, all the usual mentions and some surprises. See what happens in Chicago.

Whatever happens would not be as bad as what happened to Biden last night in Atlanta. Or, for that matter, to the scores of people around the country and globe who have been forced to root for him against the catastrophic alternative. Denial had its place, but it is not a strategy. This is no time for second-guessing or hand-wringing or bed-wetting or dawdling. The Democrats’ problem has never been more apparent. Last night was a bitter way to get the message, but there it was, in full ashen display. If Trump poses the threat to democracy that Democrats insist he does, they need a much better athlete on the stage.

There’s plenty to blame for this imbroglio—beginning with Biden and his hubris, but also the legions of Democrats who refused to say in public what they’ve all been saying in private for months: that they feared Biden was too old for this. Ideally, the process would have started a year ago, or 18 months ago. It would have been nice if one or three of them—other than Representative Dean Phillips—had actually dared to run against him in a primary. (Shout-out to Phillips, by the way, the clear-cut winner of the I-told-you-so primary.)

But again, blame can wait, and the judgment of history will be harsh enough if Trump winds up back in the White House. Right now, though, there’s still time to do something. Time for action.



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