EDITORIAL: Joe Biden should step aside, for democracy’s sake

The Nightly
President Joe Biden participates in the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia.
President Joe Biden participates in the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The good news for the Democrats is that it’s not too late to find another candidate to take on Donald Trump in November.

The bad news is everything else.

Joe Biden looked every one of his 81 years as he mumbled and meandered his way through the first presidential debate.

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At a number of points, the President appeared to lose his train of thought, leading to one particularly baffling moment where he declared: “We finally beat Medicare”.

His opponent, just three years his junior, looked energised in comparison.

At every turn, Trump bested him.

It doesn’t make a difference that Trump’s answers ranged from irrelevant to bombastic to outright lies.

Being convicted of dozens of felony counts related to paying hush money to cover up an affair with a porn star has the unexpected benefit of liberating one from the truth. It’s a powerful advantage in politics.

But this debate was never really about Trump versus Biden.

Mr Biden’s true opponent was himself.

He needed to convince both Democrats and undecided voters that he had the stamina and the mental acuity to last another term.

He failed.

If he were to win a second term, Mr Biden would be 86 when it concludes — should he live that long.

Many of us have very elderly people in our own lives, some of whom are sharp and capable. But we’d be unlikely to trust them with the codes to the world’s second-biggest nuclear arsenal.

The fact is Mr Biden is just too old.

From his performance on that debate stage, he is not fit for office right now. And he is certainly not fit for a second term.

Reports of panic inside the Democratic camp indicate they know this.

Mr Biden’s supporters put on a brave face. But even his Vice-President Kamala Harris acknowledged things hadn’t gone to plan, conceding her boss made a “slow start”.

Advisers to would-be replacement candidates reported receiving pleas from key Democratic donors to make a move on the President, even while the calamity was still unfolding on stage.

President Biden.
President Biden. Credit: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

At the moment, Mr Biden is the Democrats’ presumptive nominee. He won’t be formally endorsed as a candidate until the party’s convention in August.

However, given all primaries have already been held, the only realistic way for someone else to emerge as the Democratic candidate is for Mr Biden to voluntarily step aside.

So far, that doesn’t seem likely. Speaking to supporters shortly after leaving the stage, Mr Biden said: “Let’s keep going”.

That’s bad news both for the US and for the rest of the world which benefits from having a strong liberal democracy committed to the rule of law as the globe’s dominant superpower.

Early on in the debate, Mr Biden remarked that the US was “the world’s most admired country”.

That claim is looking shakier by the day.

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