Debate Recap: We Need To Talk About Grandpa

Democrats in panic mode after disastrous debate

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
June 27, 2024

The expectations for President Joe Biden heading into Thursday night's debate were preposterously low. "Unless he's wheeled out on stage in a hospital bed," wrote former Hillary Clinton strategist Zac Petkanas, "Joe Biden has already won." He would surely exceed those expectations, and not just because of the friendly moderators from CNN. Right?

Biden, 81, wasn't wheeled out on stage in a hospital bed, but his performance left many Americans—including many Democrats desperate to beat Donald Trump in November—wondering if perhaps he should have been. The split-screen footage was painful to watch. One comedian compared Biden's appearance to that of "a cat staring at a ghost." He looked confused, spoke with a raspy voice, and struggled to form complete sentences in English.

"Making sure that we’re able to make every single solitary person eligible for what I’ve been able to do with the, with the COVID," Biden said in response to an early question about tax policy. "Excuse me. With dealing with everything we have to do with, look, if we finally beat Medicare."

In response to a question about abortion—an issue most Democrats are happy to discuss at length—Biden brought up one of the young girls raped by an illegal immigrant who entered the country on his watch, and followed up by noting that illegal immigrants aren't the only ones out there raping people.

"Look, there’s so many young women who have been—including a young woman who just was murdered," Biden said. "The idea that she was murdered by an immigrant coming in, and they talk about that. But here’s the deal. There’s a lot of young women who are being raped by their in-laws, by their spouses, brothers and sisters."

Trump was exceedingly alert and coherent by comparison, and perhaps uncharacteristically subdued. The Biden campaign had insisted on debate rules—including muted microphones and no audience—that seemed to benefit Trump and prevent his worst impulses. There were times when both candidates came across as cranky old men bickering in the nursing home common room. They got into a heated argument, for example, about which one of them was "the worst president" in American history, and who could hit a golf ball the farthest.

Democrats were horrified at what they saw and—for the first time in four years—weren't afraid to say so publicly. It was time they had a talk about putting grandpa in a home. "I'm a Biden Guy, but unless there is a huge turn around, and soon, there will be a huge universal call for a new candidate and an open convention," said former Democratic consultant David Doak. Another party activist, Jay Surdukowski, was more blunt: "Biden is toast – calling it now."

CNN host Kasie Hunt relayed similar concerns from Biden supporters. "The voice, open-mouthed look, and visual contrast between President Biden and former President Trump all have Democrats I'm talking to nearly beside themselves watching this debate," she wrote. New York Times columnist and failed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nicholas Kristof urged Biden to "reflect on this debate performance and then announce his decision to withdraw from the race." 

It was an unmitigated disaster. No one—except for anyone who has been paying attention—could have seen predicted it. The comments about dropping Biden as the nominee come after Democrats and their journalist allies spent the last several weeks denouncing the Wall Street Journal for a report suggesting Biden was "slipping," and sounding the alarm over "cheap fake" videos that might brainwash voters into thinking the president is very old and suffering from cognitive decline.

"I've watched a lot of Biden talks. I've never heard him sound this frail," wrote Vox journalist Zack Beauchamp. "I have no idea how Biden's surrogates are going to spin this disaster."

Neither do we. The election is in 130 days.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)