Biden’s debate performance stirs panic, while Trump’s falsehoods continue: NH political scientists react to Thursday’s debate

Former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden participate in a CNN presidential debate Thursday in Atlanta.

Former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden participate in a CNN presidential debate Thursday in Atlanta. Gerald Herbert / AP

Lori Lahrmann left, and Tonya Morris, second from left, both from Cincinnati, watch the presidential debateThursday at Tillie’s Lounge in Cincinnati. Both plan to vote for President Joe Biden.

Lori Lahrmann left, and Tonya Morris, second from left, both from Cincinnati, watch the presidential debateThursday at Tillie’s Lounge in Cincinnati. Both plan to vote for President Joe Biden. Carolyn Kaster / AP

Trump supporter, Lucas Federico, 21, from New York, center, watches the debate during the Young Republicans' Presidential debate watch party on Thursday.

Trump supporter, Lucas Federico, 21, from New York, center, watches the debate during the Young Republicans' Presidential debate watch party on Thursday. Andres Kudacki / AP

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 06-29-2024 3:54 PM

At Thursday night’s presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the current president did little to assuage concerns that at 81 years old, he’s still up to the rigors of the job, while the former president unleashed a barrage of lies and disinformation about abortion, January 6, immigration and the outcome of the last election.

Still more than four months away from the 2024 presidential election, calls have intensified among Democrats for Biden to step aside in favor of another nominee, but he reiterated on Friday that he plans to stay in the race.

“He had the sort of performance Democrats were worried he was going to give, the sort of thing they were worried about in the run-up to the State of the Union,” said Chris Galdieri, a political science professor at St. Anselm College. “You didn’t get State of the Union Joe, you got Joe, the (81)-year-old who’s fighting off a cold and looks and sounds like it. I always hesitate to talk about these things too much in terms of theater criticism, but I think the danger for him is that the visuals reinforce concerns that we know voters have.”

In a recent Gallup poll, 67% of Americans said they felt Biden was too old to be president, compared to just 37% who said the same for Trump, even though Trump is just three years younger.

Thursday night was also marked with numerous falsehoods from Trump, who called Biden “a very bad Palestinian,” said the current president is paid by China and that Biden is putting millions of illegal immigrants on Social Security. He also said on the issue of abortion that Democrats “will take the life of a child in the eighth month, in the ninth month, even after birth,” and denied any responsibility for the January 6 insurrection.

At the other podium, Biden lost his train of thought, mixed up numbers and sometimes struggled to fill his allotted two minutes of speaking time.

“It will be plenty of ammunition for the people who develop negative campaign ads in the future,” said Andy Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire survey center. “Biden looked very old and not up to the task, and Trump was more than happy to repeat falsehoods and exaggerations.”

For months, the issue of age has plagued Biden’s poll numbers, but in previous instances like this year’s State of the Union, he was able to quell some of those concerns with an energetic and forceful delivery. For the most part, that was not the case on Thursday.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

But while the topic of replacing him at the top of the ticket has gained even more steam, Galdieri cautioned that it’s not necessarily a realistic option that would improve Democrats’ chances of winning the race.

“It has very little bearing on reality. I think the tell with that is that the conversation is not, ‘The president should step aside and Vice President Harris should be the nominee.’ Because if the president were to step aside, that’s what would happen,” he said. “It’s impossible for me to imagine that he would drop out of the race and not say, ‘By the way, all of you Democratic convention delegates who were elected to support me, I think you should support Vice President Harris.’ And it’s just amazing to me that there are folks who think, ‘Oh yeah, we could just skip over the first Black woman to be vice president who could be the first Black female president, first female president.’”

In addition, whoever the replacement candidate would be would not have gone through the rigors of the primary campaign that might expose their weaknesses or validate their strengths.

“It’d really be playing with fire for the Democrats to run somebody who had not run in any primaries, who has not had to go out and make a case to Black voters in South Carolina, to urban voters in New York and Michigan and Atlanta and those sorts of places and sort of just skip over all of these Democratic constituencies and get the nomination because, ‘Oh wow, they gave a really good speech,’ or that sort of thing,” Galdieri added. “I just think that is setting somebody up for a really, really difficult campaign.”

The consequences of Thursday also remain murky given this was the earliest presidential debate ever held in a cycle. With Trump needing to select a vice presidential candidate, both parties’ conventions, future debates and other unexpected developments on the horizon, voters’ decisions will be influenced by far more than one 90-minute debate.

“I think we shouldn’t draw any final conclusions in this first couple days afterward,” Smith said. “We’ll see how things go down the road, but it’s June. Voters aren’t really paying attention to the race yet. They really won’t get tuned in until after Labor Day, so there is time for recovery from both Trump and Biden in this, but assuming there’s another debate, I hope it’s better than this last one.”