Biden's debate performance pushes Dems to consider the once-unthinkable: Casting him aside

President Biden woke up Friday to a torrent of liberal columnists, Democratic operatives and his favorite television host questioning whether he should drop out of the presidential race following a debate performance that focused attention on his advanced age.

“If he were CEO and he turned in a performance like that, would any corporation in America, any Fortune 500 corporation in America keep him on as CEO?” asked Joe Scarborough during a tough opening monologue of his MSNBC show “Morning Joe.”

The question before Biden is momentous. He and other Democrats have called former President Trump an existential threat to democracy and many of those calling for Biden to step aside cited the importance of keeping Trump out of the White House as their overriding concern, even as many defended Biden’s job performance beyond the debate.

Party rules make it virtually impossible to replace Biden without his consent. Yet, even if Biden agrees, it presents a raft of risks and obstacles, including settling on a replacement at a brokered convention and selling a new candidate to the American public in a 2½-month sprint. Vice President Kamala Harris, the most obvious heir apparent, has struggled in polls along with Biden. Other potential replacements include California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The question Friday was whether people close to Biden would urge him to make that decision and whether he would listen if they did.

But in the immediate aftermath, even his closest allies conceded that he struggled. “His biggest issue was to prove to the American people that he had the energy, the stamina — and he didn’t do that,” his former communications director, Kate Bedingfield, said on CNN.

“It was a slow start. That’s obvious to everyone,” Harris said on CNN while insisting the larger point was about “the choice in November.”

Jon Favreau, the former Obama administration official, called it a disaster and “maybe the worst debate I’ve ever seen in my entire life” on his podcast while Maria Shriver, the former California first lady and Kennedy family member, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that it was “heartbreaking in many ways” as she lamented “panic in the Democratic party.”

Biden was hoping to erase the bad reviews with a campaign rally in North Carolina, projecting an optimistic signal that his campaign was trying to expand the electoral map.

Advisors who spoke anonymously tried to downplay the importance of the faceoff with Trump, which they said he won on the substance, by noting that debates seldom move polls. And some Democrats were publicly urging Democrats to stay the course.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries offered a terse “no” when asked by reporters whether Biden should drop out.

“Republicans are like Tammy Wynette, they stand by their man,” said Elizabeth Ashford, longtime California political consultant whose clients have included Harris. “And if Dems want to win in November, we must do the same.”

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