Democrats urge Biden campaign to shift course after debate disaster

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Democrats urge Biden campaign to shift course after debate disaster

President Biden’s disastrous debate performance has left Democrats scrambling for ways to strengthen their weakened president.

Democratic lawmakers and strategists for months had predicted the presidential race would be extremely close, but they now see Biden as an underdog after he stumbled against former President Trump on the debate stage.

The discussion over whether Biden should be the nominee has not ended, and new swing state polls in the coming week could give new ammunition to those who argue the party would be better off pushing Biden to step away in favor of another candidate.

But Biden’s campaign, the White House and some of his top allies are insisting he’s not going anywhere. They’re more focused on strengthening Biden as the nominee.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), the co-chair of Biden’s campaign, on Monday called for the president to have more unscripted moments, a risky strategy given Biden’s reputation for making gaffes and wandering off topic.

Some Democratic lawmakers and strategists think Biden’s and their party’s best move is to pivot to offense by ramping up attacks on Trump and the conservative-dominated Supreme Court, which on Monday granted the former president substantial immunity from prosecution.

“There are days where Biden is the smartest person in the room, and I’m sure there are days where his age is slowing him down, but Biden needs to and the campaign needs to show more days where he is at the top of his game, where he is gregarious, where he is interacting, where he is quick on his feet. That’s how you turn this around,” said a Senate Democratic strategist.

“They have to show the American people that what happened last Thursday was an anomaly,” the source added.

The strategist said Biden is now a clear underdog and his campaign needs to adapt to the new political reality.

“It’s no longer ‘could Biden do this or not.’ I think probably the prevailing sentiment is Biden is not up for the challenge. Whether that’s right or that’s wrong, I think that is now the prevailing sentiment,” the strategist said. “Biden is definitely the underdog now, but I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion Trump wins this race.”

A postdebate poll in New Hampshire, a state that Democrats have been counting in Biden’s column, showed Trump now leading Biden by 2 points.

The survey of 1,746 registered voters by the Saint Anselm College Survey Center over Saturday and Sunday showed Biden has only a 39 percent favorable rating in the state, worse than Trump, who posted a 42 percent favorable rating.

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former Senate leadership aide, said the Biden campaign needs to adjust its strategy.

“Any Democrat who doesn’t think he’s an underdog at this point of time needs to get their head examined. There’s a real problem here. Hopefully the Biden folks understand that and are trying to figure out what to do,” he said.

Manley said any shift in strategy would be helped by quality polling data, but in the meantime Biden’s team needs to increase the candidate’s public exposure.

“They need to get him out there as quickly as possible in some adversarial settings and let the chips fall where they may,” he said. “Hopefully, he’ll rise to the occasion like he did at the State of the Union.”

Biden’s team has limited the president’s exposure to media interviews during his first term in office, but Democratic strategists say they need to reconsider their instinct to protect the candidate.

“Part of being the underdog, you need to be willing to take a few more risks, be a little more aggressive,” Manley said. “A lot of his policies are popular, it’s just he’s not selling them, so they have to be a little more aggressive.”

Coons, one of Biden’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, on Monday called for the president’s team to give him more latitude to show that he still has the energy and capability to serve a second term.

“We do need to see more unscripted and off-the-record moments. That is something I’m encouraging,” he said Monday during an interview with “CNN This Morning.”  

Coons had told reporters before the debate that videos purporting to show Biden freezing up or appearing lost at moments were selectively edited to portray the president in a bad light. But after Thursday’s debate, it’s now tougher for Biden’s allies to wave aside these clips without the president himself reassuring voters with more public appearances.

Former Pennsylvania Rep. Ron Klink (D) said that Biden does best when interacting with crowds and criticized his campaign for agreeing to debate Trump without an audience present.

“Whoever the campaign officials were that agreed to having just the moderators and the crew and the two candidates in the room, that was a mistake. President Biden does very well when he has people to interact with. Even with an adversarial crowd, you saw at the State of the Union. He is best when he is interacting with people,” Klink said.

Biden drew praise after his feisty State of the Union address in March when he clashed with Republican lawmakers in a lively back-and-forth from the chamber’s dais.

Klink pointed out that former President Clinton was able to rebound during some of his toughest moments in public life by gaining inspiration and energy from his constituents and supporters.

The former Pennsylvania lawmaker also said Biden needs to do more to lay out his vision for a second term, a critique voiced by Democratic senators.

“They need to reassure the public, in particular younger voters, by laying out their vision for the future. Have they done a sufficient job of that? No, they have not,” Klink said.

Senate Democrats pivoted Monday to attacking the Supreme Court’s decision to grant Trump immunity for crimes related to his official acts as president and its ruling Friday to overturn the so-called Chevron deference, which before had made it easier for the federal government to implement environmental, consumer safety and other regulations.

After staying mostly quiet about Biden’s embarrassing debate performance, Senate Democrats unleashed a barrage of criticism directed at the court, and reminded voters that Trump had appointed half of the court’s conservative majority.

Though Biden is struggling with stubbornly low approval ratings, so is the Supreme Court. Only 36 percent of Americans approve of the high court, according to an average of polls compiled by

Some senior Democrats are arguing that there’s no realistic path to replacing Biden as the nominee and that electing Trump as president after the Supreme Court ruled to grant him broad immunity for official actions would be a danger to democracy.

“Our current situation should give Dems a rejuvenating chance to focus better on fixing what’s gone wrong in America. We face three huge threats: persistent internal attacks on our democracy, unbridled climate upheaval, and a captured Court with some deeply corrupt justices,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in a statement posted Monday on social media.

“We are in a war for our future and should behave that way,” he warned fellow Democrats.