Biden Can Ad-Lib and Deliver a Speech. It’s Still Not Enough.

Michelle Cottle

July 5, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET

July 5, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

I get all the arguments against President Biden abandoning his re-election run. I really do. I have talked with Bidenworld insiders. I can recite the practical challenges of pushing an incumbent president out the door, and I know that people are determined to ignore the troubling new polls. I am familiar with the grim history of similar efforts. And I have long given these factors heavy consideration when evaluating the electoral mess confronting Democrats.

But now. …

While I still see the logic and anxiety behind the stay-the-course argument, the fundamental equation has changed. I’m betting most Biden die-hards realize this, even if they cannot admit it — even to themselves. So I figured it was worth ticking through some of the more common rationales I’m hearing, and why they ring increasingly hollow.

Let’s get the big one out of the way. Yes, Donald Trump’s debate performance was appalling. He lied. He dodged. He rambled and raved. He was at times incoherent. But it doesn’t matter, because Biden was not in a position to push back on even the most egregious malarkey. And that, my friends, is political malpractice. So let’s move past this weak-tea defense.

Yes, Trump is a terrible person and was a terrible president. I, like many of you, believe he is unfit to hold any office. But around half the country does not feel this way, and even many people who do not much like him are wondering if he is really a worse bet than a president who at any given moment might come across like your shellshocked papaw after a few snorts of schnapps. If people weren’t feeling it before this meltdown, they’re not going to be convinced now. So, again, let’s move along.

Yes, the debate may have been an especially bad night for Biden. No matter: His failure fit the prevailing story line that he is too old. And it started a steady dribble of accounts of similar senior moments. Biden loyalists can lecture voters not to overreact. But that won’t change what people saw. So … move along.

Yes, the debate prep may have been too vigorous or too lax. Or conducted at the wrong hours or after too much travel. And Biden’s makeup may have been subpar — which, let me just say, I warned everyone about beforehand. But people are going to have reservations about a president who seems so fragile, who can function only between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Move along.

Yes, Biden has done a good job as president and has surrounded himself with good people. But even voters who cheer his record may not be comfortable with giving him another four years. And it’s not particularly reassuring to say: “Oh, don’t worry about him! His aides will be running things.”

Yes, it would be complicated to replace Biden. His obvious heir, Kamala Harris, has a popularity problem, and pushing her aside and throwing open the doors to other contenders would invite factional feuding and disruption. But that does not mean replacing him is the worst or riskiest option. There are times when the path of least resistance is the one that leads to total disaster. This increasingly looks like one of those times.

Yes, Democrats are famous for being overreacting bed-wetters. And yet: Have you been listening to voters? Because they have been saying for quite a while now that they think Biden is too old. And continuing to lecture them that they are wrong is not a winning strategy, especially for a Democratic Party that frequently comes across as scoldy and condescending.

Which brings us to what may be the most damning attempted defense.

Yes, of course Democrats overwhelmingly picked Biden to be their nominee. He is the incumbent president, and that is generally how re-election campaigns work. But that makes this situation all the worse because many Americans feel misled about his physical and cognitive fitness. They suspect his team has been hiding important things from them. That is a truly destructive message to be sending a nation where trust in government and other institutions is already in the toilet.

So, yeah. I get all the concerns about easing Biden off the stage. I just can’t buy them anymore.