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By Christina Georgaki
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Biden must go

3 min read

There was a rare synchronicity in British and American politics two weeks ago: almost simultaneous election debates on both sides of the Atlantic. The two debates were a stark illustration of two very different political cultures.

British politicians spend their lives debating. American politicians deliver set-piece speeches from a podium to usually half-empty chambers, while all the serious business is done in huddles and side rooms. There is no equivalent of Prime Minister’s Questions. 

For American presidents, televised debates are pretty much the only time they face a prolonged, direct, face-to-face challenge; and, given this unfamiliarity, stuff happens. 

Over the decades, these debates have produced many immortal moments. Richard Nixon’s sweat-stained performance against a strikingly articulate Kennedy in 1960. Gerald Ford’s much-ridiculed assertion while debating Jimmy Carter in 1976, at the height of the cold war, that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” – a gift to the humourists of the day, who mocked “Gerald Ford’s unilateral liberation of Eastern Europe: free at last, free at last”. George Bush checking his watch mid-debate in 1992, when asked about the then stuttering economy, as if he couldn’t be bothered with such trivia. Donald Trump stalking Hillary Clinton around the stage in 2016. 

Stuff happened at Biden vs Trump, too: the worst performance by anyone, ever, in a presidential debate. And it wasn’t just bad, it was a hands-in-front-of-the-eyes, hide-behind-the-sofa horror show. 

Biden was incoherent, almost inaudible, and at times completely lost the thread of whatever argument he was trying to get across, trailing away into a stricken silence. It became painful to watch him trying to put a sentence together. And it left Trump, whose every intervention was a mixture of wild exaggeration and complete fantasy, almost untouched: like a boxer whose legs have gone, Biden could never muster the clarity of thought to rebut. 

The result: the CNN snap poll after the debate had Trump winning by a massive 66 per cent to 20 per cent. 

So, what now? It is near impossible to oust Biden against his will. But he could voluntarily stand down and oversee a truncated contest to pick a new candidate, culminating in a decision at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in mid-August. 

Biden is notoriously stubborn, but the pressure is rising. Influential pro-Democrat voices including prominent donors and, importantly, the editorial board of the New York Times, are calling for exactly this – as are, according to the polls, 45 per cent of Democrat voters. 

The Biden family are leading the resistance, arguing that this was “one bad night” and that the damage can be repaired: magical thinking. And efforts to rehabilitate his image have been profoundly unconvincing.

It isn’t a matter of a quick tune-up in the garage and all will be well, it was a total car crash and the wreckage is scattered irreparably across the highway. And surely, in their reflective moments, they all know this. Which leaves the question: if not Biden, who? 

The reality is that there is plenty of talent on the Democrat bench. The theoretical front runner is Gavin Newsom, governor of California (which, were it a country, would be the world’s fifth largest economy). Newsom has Kennedy-esque looks and charisma, is a highly effective debater and is well known across America from his high media profile. 

Other credible candidates include vice-president Kamala Harris; billionaire JB Pritzker, governor of Illinois, a heavyweight in every sense with a reputation for ruthlessness (well of course – he’s from Chicago); and two high-performing governors of swing states: Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. 

Any of them look capable of saving the world from Trump 2.0, if given the chance. Over to you, Joe. 

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