'Sense of shock': Democrats melt down over Joe Biden's debate disaster (2024)

WASHINGTON − Democrats and other opponents of Donald Trump melted down as President Joe Biden struggled during Thursday's debate, with some suggesting he should bow out to allow another Democrat to run instead.

Biden's voice was hoarse and raspy from the start. He stumbled over words and had to correct himself with numbers. He was sometimes hard to follow. On one occasion, the president appeared to lose his train of thought, stopped speaking and concluded − confusingly − with the line, "we finally beat Medicare."

"That's a good man. He loves his country. He's doing the best that he can," said Van Jones, a Democratic political analyst for CNN. "But he had a test to meet tonight to restore confidence in the country and of the base, and he failed to do that."

'Sense of shock': Democrats melt down over Joe Biden's debate disaster (1)

Jones added: "We're still far from our convention. And there is time for this party to figure out a different way forward if he will allow us to do that."

Biden, 81, entered the debate badly needing to energize his campaign, unite his party and answer skepticism about his age and ability to serve another term. Although he improved during the debate after an especially rocky start, Biden did not silence the concerns.

One House Democrat, who spoke to USA TODAY on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly, described the debate as a "disaster."

"Trump lied and Biden played all defense," the Democrat said.

Another former Democratic member of Congress, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a conversation needs to happen privately with Biden about allowing someone else to run as the Democratic nominee. The lawmaker said he turned off the debate after the first hour because he couldn't stand watching Biden not stand up to Trump.

“It's not enough to be decent and honest and right on the issues," the Democrat said. "You have to be able to persuade, to defend your values forcefully and clearly, to command respect and to be able to take on liars and bullies like Trump to be the leader of this country."

Biden's struggles made him lack forceful responses to Trump's repeated attacks and his downplaying of his role surrounding the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. While Trump talked, Biden often looked his way with a blank stare and his mouth open.

'Sense of shock': Democrats melt down over Joe Biden's debate disaster (2)

David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, said there was a "sense of shock" with how poorly Biden started the debate.

"He seemed a little disoriented. He did get stronger as the debate went on," Axelrod said on CNN. "But by that time, I think the panic had set in. And I think you're going to hear discussions that − I don't know will lead to anything − but there is going to be discussions about whether he should continue."

Maria Shriver, former first lady of California, a Biden supporter and member of the famed Democratic Kennedy family, shard her concerns in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

"I love Joe Biden. I know he’s a good man. I know his heart is good. I know he’s dedicated to our country and is surrounded by good people. Tonight was heartbreaking in many ways," Shriver wrote. "This is a big political moment. There’s panic in the Democratic party. It’s going to be a long night."

Addressing Democratic concerns, a Biden campaign adviser told USA TODAY: "President Biden is the only person who has ever beaten Donald Trump. He will do it again. Donald Trump did not give voters any reason to vote for him tonight. On the issues, the American people are with Joe Biden."

Vice President Kamala Harris also defended Biden's performance.

"What we saw tonight is the president making a very clear contrast with Donald Trump on all of the issues that matter to the American people," Harris said. "Yes, there was a slow start but it was a strong finish.

"Listen, people can debate on style points, but ultimately this election and who is the president of the United States has to be about substance − and the contrast is clear," Harris said.

Sen. Rafael Warnock, D-Ga., when asked whether he was concerned about Biden's chances in November, responded: “I would be concerned if the president didn’t have a record to run on."

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, in an interview on MSNBC, called the Democratic criticism of Biden's performance "unhelpful" and "unnecessary."

"We've got to go in and got to keep our head high, and we've got to have the back of this president. You don't turn your back because of one performance. What kind of party does that? He's been a master class."

Others disagreed.

"Guys, the Dems should nominate someone else - before it’s too late," businessman Andrew Yang, who unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination in 2020 and backed Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., in the Democratic primary this year. He added the hashtag "#swapJoeout."

Trump seemed to sense Biden's difficulties. "I really don't know what he said at the end of that sentence," Trump said during one exchange on immigration during the debate. "And I don't think he knows what he said either."

"Sorry, I’m voting for President Biden but a disaster so far," Republican strategist Mike Murphy, a Trump critic, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, shortly into the debate. "On a 1 to 10 point scale − if this continues − the panic explosion inside the Democratic Party will hit 28 tomorrow."

Elise Jordan, an MSNBC contributor and an aide in President George W. Bush's administration, said on X, "If President Biden cares about preserving American democracy, he should drop out of the election."

Geoff Garin, a Biden pollster, downplayed the Democratic unrest, however. "The freak out over the debate is way overwrought," he said in a post on X. "Biden got off to a slow start but he had a strong finish. Trump was increasing incoherent and deranged as the debate went on, and Trump's extremism was on full display."

Garin added: "At the end of the day Joe Biden will win because he builds America up while Donald Trump consistently tears it down."

Contributing: Ken Tran. Reach Joey Garrison on X @joeygarrison.

'Sense of shock': Democrats melt down over Joe Biden's debate disaster (2024)
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