Calls for Biden to stand aside grow after shaky debate performance against Trump – live

Could there be a contested Democratic convention? How would that even work? Replacing the president may not be an option, they said, but many acknowledged Democrats are talking about it, spurred by Biden’s troubling debate performance.

MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace laid out how a candidate could release their delegates. Joy Reid said someone sent her the rules.

“The rules are circulating,” Wallace laughed.

“No one is saying it’s going to happen, it’s very unlikely,” Reid reiterated.

The fact that a liberal network would broach the idea of whether an incumbent president running for re-election could be replaced after they’ve won the nomination shows how Democrats are scrambling after the debate to affirm Biden’s ability to lead the nation. Many are questioning whether the party should have serious conservations about what else could be done instead.

David Plouffe, a Democratic strategist and former Obama campaign official, called the debate “kind of a Defcon 1 moment”.

“The biggest thing in this election is voters’ concerns – and it’s both swing voters and base voters – with his age, and those were compounded tonight,” Plouffe said.

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Possible contenders to replace Joe Biden as the Democrat presidential nominee have doubled down on supporting him after a night in which there have been calls for the president to step aside from the 2024 election after a disappointing performance in the first TV debate of the campaign.

Democratic Sen Claire McCaskill said on MSNBC that she was not sure “if things can be done to fix this” after Biden appeared to have been bested by Donald Trump, who despite making numerous false claims nevertheless appeared to be the more coherent of the elderly perspective candidates.

Biden’s voice at times sounded raspy, and at times he did not make sense, blurting out “We finally beat Medicare” at one point. Trump regularly answered straightforward questions – about the economy, or abortion, or the opioid crisis – with non sequiturs, but after the debate it was Democratic commentators who seemed most concerned about the potential impact on voters.

Maria Shriver, the former first lady of California, said she loves Biden, but that the evening was “heartbreaking in many ways” and that there was “panic in the Democratic party”. David Plouffe, a Democratic strategist and former Obama campaign official, called the debate “kind of a Defcon 1 moment”.

There is no easy process in place to replace Joe Biden at this late stage of the process, with him having triumphed mostly unopposed during the primaries and all set to be confirmed as the nominee at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August.

The only significant change would be if he were to voluntarily step aside, or even step down from the presidency.

Possible alternative names being touted include vice-president Kamala Harris, and California governor Gavin Newsom. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, Illinois governor J B Pritzker and veteran Ohio senator Sherrod Brown have also been mooted.

But at least on the night of the debate Harris and Newsom seemed foursquare behind the beleagured president. Harris conceded Biden made “a slow start”, saying “That’s obvious to everyone. I’m not going to debate that point.”

However she went on to tell CNN that “people can debate on style points but ultimately this election and who is the president of the US has to be about substance and the contrast is clear. Donald Trump lied over and over and over again as he is want to do. He would not disavow what happened on 6 January 6. He would not give a clear answer on whether he would stand by the election results.”

Newsom said talk of changing nominee was “nonsensical speculation”, adding “I will never turn my back on President Biden. Never turn my back on President Biden, I don’t know a Democrat in my party that would do so.”

Incidentally Joe Biden is due to be campaigning later today in North Carolina. Vice-president Kamala Harris is expected to be in Nevada.

Journalist Jake Sherman has posted to social media claiming to have had a lot of post-debate conversations with congressional Democrats. He writes:

Their sense isn’t that this was a bad debate. It is much worse than that. In their view, Biden didn’t even clear the lowest bar. They may agree with him on policy. But Biden wasn’t even able to articulate what his policies are. For Democrats running down ballot, this is an incredibly serious problem.

Writing for MSNBC, Hayes Brown states that Biden has less than three months to turn this performance around, but does not think it is a completely hopeless case. He writes:

It’s clear that Biden’s energy and capability is still there, as he warmed up throughout the night. He even seemed like an entirely different person in an appearance at an Atlanta watch party that MSNBC aired after the debate ended. The question is how to make sure that version of Biden is on full display throughout the remainder of the campaign, countering the image that may unfortunately be locked into many voters’ minds now.

The answer may rest with reminding Americans that no matter what concerns they might have had about Biden’s performance tonight, there was nothing that Trump did that made it seem like he is the better choice to return to the White House.

One of the odder bits of factchecking last night, via Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post, is whether Joe Biden was being misleading to claim that Donald Trump had said people should inject bleach into their arms during the Covid pnademic. How did we get here? Anyway, to clear up the confusion, Kessler provides the full quote from Trump on 23 April 2020:

I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.

His verdict is that this does not appear to be Trump suggesting people should inject bleach, and that Biden was being misleading.

At the time, asked to clarify his comments the next day, the then-president insisted he had been “asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.”

Guardian US columnist Rebecca Solnit has also delivered her verdict, saying the American people were the true losers last night:

Debates exist so that people can hear from the candidates, which makes sense when they’re relative unknowns. We’ve heard plenty from both of them for 40 years or so, since Biden was a young congressman and Trump was a young attention-seeker in New York City’s nightclubs and tabloids, and both of them have had the most high-profile job on earth for four years.

We didn’t need this debate. Because 2024 is not like previous election years, and the reasons it’s not are both that each candidate has had plenty of time to show us who they are and because one of them is a criminal seeking to destroy democracy and human rights along with the climate, the economy and international alliances. If you are too young to remember 2017-2021, this would not help you figure that out.

Much has been said about the age of the candidates, but maybe it’s the corporate media whose senility is most dangerous to us. Their insistence on proceeding as though things are pretty much what they’ve always been, on normalizing the appalling and outrageous, on using false equivalencies and bothsiderism to make themselves look fair and reasonable, on turning politics into horseraces and personality contests, is aiding the destruction of the United States.

Read more from Rebecca Solnit here: The true losers of this presidential debate were the American people

Jess Bidgood, writing for the New York Times On Politics newsletter, summed it all up as “Well, that was ugly” and said the main takeaway was “mostly, they fought about each other.”

She writes:

Both Biden and Trump are deeply unpopular, and voters have for months been telling pollsters that they did not want this rematch even as they sent the candidates to the top of the ticket. Watching the debate last night, as each cast the other as the reason that he is running again, it seemed clear that the two Americans who most want this rematch were standing onstage.

“I wish he was a great president because I wouldn’t be here right now. I’d be at one of my many places enjoying myself,” Trump said, adding, “The only reason I’m here is that he’s so bad as a president”. Biden portrayed Trump as a unique threat to the country, castigating him in deeply personal terms and repeatedly calling him a liar. The deep enmity on display – and the messiness of the night – may have damaged them both.

David Smith was in Atlanta for the Guardian, and this is his sketch of what was a terrible debate night for the Biden campaign:

That sickening thud you heard was jaws hitting the floor. That queasy sound you heard was hearts sinking into boots. That raspy noise you heard was a US president embodying what felt like the last gasp of the ailing republic. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

The first US presidential debate in Atlanta on Thursday was the night that Democrats went from “Don’t panic!” to “OK, time to panic!” After months of preparation and expectation, they got to the altar and suddenly realised they were marrying the wrong man.

In 90 miserable minutes, Joe Biden achieved two things that had seemed impossible. He lived down to expectations that were already rock bottom. And he managed to make Donald Trump sound almost coherent. Trump did not win the debate but Biden certainly lost it.

Democrats had been lulled into a false sense of security by Biden’s high energy performance at the State of the Union address. They expected Superman again. Instead they got Clark Kent in his dotage.

Read more of David Smith’s verdict here: ‘You’re the sucker, you’re the loser’: 90 miserable minutes of Biden v Trump

Should Joe Biden decide not to go for reelection in November after all, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which takes place 19-22 August, would have to nominate somebody else. There isn’t a clear frontrunner, but there would be some of the potential options.

Kamala Harris

The most obvious default pick would be Biden’s vice-president. She has been widely criticised for not carving out her own role in the Biden administration and has poor polling approval ratings, suggesting she would struggle against Donald Trump in the glare of an election campaign. The 59-year-old was backing Biden after the debate, but would also be maybe the easiest for the party to install as a replacement. She would automatically become president if Biden resigned from the White House, but that would not automatically make her the nominee.

Gavin Newsom

The 56-year-old California governor was in the spin room last night talking down any alternatives to Biden being the nominee, saying it was “nonsensical speculation”. He had a primetime debate with Florida gov Ron DeSantis last year, which could be a presidential match-up of the future, and has made a point of supporting Democrats in elections away from his home state, which looked, at times, like a shadow White House campaign.

J B Pritzker

The 59-year-old governor of Illinois would be one of the wealthiest of potential picks, but also can flourish the credentials of having codified the right to abortion in Illinois and declaring it a “sanctuary state” for women seeking abortions. He has also been strong on gun control, and legalised recreational marijuana.

Gretchen Whitmer

The Michigan governor was on the shortlist for VP pick for Biden in 2020, and a strong showing in the midterms for the Democratic party was in part put down to her governership. The 52-year-old has been in favor of stricter gun laws, repealing abortion bans and back universal pre-kindergarten.

Sherrod Brown

The 71-year-old would be the most elderly of the alternate picks, but still seven years younger than Donald Trump. It was considered a surprise when he didn’t have a tilt for the Democratic nomination for 2020, at the time saying he saw remaining as Ohio’s senator as “the best place for me to make that fight” on behalf of working people. A strong voice on labor rights and protections, he has also spoken out on protections for IVF and abortion.

Dean Philips

The main contender to Joe Biden during the primaries earlier this year has already demonstrated an inability to appeal to the broader party, and so is unlikely to be a factor.

Democratic strategist Theryn Bond has told Sky News that the party needs to replace Joe Biden as presidential nominee, but that it should not be Kamala Harris as the “country is not ready” for a Black woman to be president.

She said that California governor Gavin Newsom and Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer could be candidates, explaining:

Unfortunately as much as I want the US to be ready for Black woman to be president, they are not ready. This country is not ready. This country is too divisive, unfortunately, we’re just not there. I don’t think she would be the one to take the Democratic Party to victory.

Joe Biden does not become the party’s nomination for president until endorsed at the 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which takes place 19-22 August.

There is no formal mechanism to replace him as the presumptive nominee, and it would be the first time a party has attempted to do so in modern times. Effectively the only option is that he would have to agree to step aside.

He won through the primaries almost uncontested, and has about 95% of the delegates who choose the nominee pledged to vote for him. There isn’t a legal requirement that they vote for who won in the primaries, but they are asked to vote in a way that “in all good conscience reflects the sentiments of those who elected them”.

Were Biden to step aside as a candidate, he might try to nominate someone – most likely vice-president Kamala Harris – as his preferred alternative, which would carry some weight with delegates, but which would not be binding.

The most drastic course of action open to Biden – resigning the presidency itself – would make Harris president. But that would not automatically make her the Democratic nominee for 2024.

The party would still have to carry out an open, contested convention, leaving about 700 party insiders the choice of picking someone, and then having only three months to unite behind and campaign for them.

And here are the top (by which I mean terrible) moments from that debate.

Warning: there’s a lot of golf talk.

On that note, this is Helen Sullivan, doing whatever the opposite of teeing off is on this live coverage. My colleague Martin Belam will be with you for the next while.

It’s worth watching this from MSNBC analyst Claire McCaskill (you’ll hear her use the word “surrogate” a lot – that is a person who speaks on behalf of a candidate, usually to promote them):

Politico has this explainer for how the Democrats could replace Biden (again: this is extremely unlikely to happen – not quite as unlikely as it was before this debate):

If Biden agreed to decline his party’s nomination, it would kick off an open and unpredictable process of picking his replacement.

Other names — from Vice President Kamala Harris, to Govs. Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer and JB Pritzker, to numerous others — could be placed in nomination. The candidates, who could span the Democratic Party’s geographic, ideological and generational wings, would be working to sway the thousands of Democratic delegates to support them on the first ballot.

The pledged delegates aren’t the only ones who have a say. The Democratic Party has stripped “superdelegates” — elected officials and party leaders who can vote for anyone they please — of most of their power since the contentious 2016 primary. These superdelegates would be free to vote if no candidate won a majority of delegates on the first ballot. An open, contested convention would give more than 700 party insiders a major role in picking the new nominee.

Here is Jon Stewart on how that went:

Tim Miller, a former Republican strategist-turned ardent Biden supporter, told the AP in the spin room after the debate, “That was the worst performance in the history of televised presidential debates”.


Updated: Juni 28, 2024 — 11:25 am

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