Dem 51
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GOP 49
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The Sharks Are Circling

For one day, the news cycle was focused on the Supreme Court, and its unprecedented expansion of presidential immunity. Then, it was right back to Joe Biden's debate performance and his infirmity for office.

It is really... unbelievable how aggressively the various non-right-wing outlets are beating this particular drum. We got an e-mail from reader S.G. in Durham, NC, pointing out that the New York Times' op-ed page was wall-to-wall Biden bashing. We took a look, and then visited Slate and found much the same. And then Politico, and then The Hill...

We decided to edit together screen captures of front pages from all four sites. The Hill is at the top, Politico is center, left column. The NYT is center, right column. And Slate is on the bottom. We also highlighted Biden must go stories in blue, and Trump must go stories in red:

It's a wall of blue highlighting

In case you don't want to count, it's 22 Biden must go stories, as compared to one Trump must go story.

At this point, let us remind you of three things:

  1. Donald Trump also gave meandering, unfocused answers at the debate

  2. While Biden's answers were halting/disorganized, some of Trump's were scary

  3. The Supreme Court just issued a ruling that could be interpreted as "anything goes if you're president."

It appears painfully obvious, at least to us, that Trump's performance was more disqualifying than Biden's. Alternatively, calling for both Trump AND Biden to go seems a reasonable response, but we could only find one of those. The Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal had an op-ed headlined "Biden Should Withdraw, And So Should Trump."

But this business of piling on Biden, and letting Trump skate? We just don't get it. Is it clickbait? Bothsidesism? Left-leaning people acting on their emotional impulses? Trump's venality being so baked in that it's not even newsworthy at this point? All of the above? Something else? If we were the editor of one of those publications, at some point we'd say, "OK, maybe we've gone a little over the top with this; let's pare it back." It's just hard to take seriously a publication that has the same basic story five and six and seven times, with little counterbalance in the form of "Trump was bad, too" or in the form of "Dumping Biden isn't the slam dunk it might seem."

That said, and as we noted in our extensive piece on Saturday, Biden does not take his cues from the media. He does care about Democratic politicians, however, and there have been some cracks on that front. As you can see in the image above, if you look closely, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) has become the first Democratic member of Congress to call for Biden to step aside. In addition, key Biden allies, including Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC) have shown slight indications of doubt. They're not hopping off the S.S. Biden yet, but they're not giving the Full Sherman when it comes to supporting the president, either. On the other hand, the Democratic politician who matters most, namely Barack Obama, is still in Full Sherman mode, and is backing Biden 100%.

The other thing Biden will heed, and we noted this on Saturday as well, is polls. There have been a lot of polls since the debate, and while we could discuss them individually, that would get very dry. So, we're going to talk about general themes, instead. And the first of those is that the polls generally say that Biden's support has slipped a bit, anywhere from 1 to 4 points. Do keep in mind that you can't really be certain that the trajectory of the race has changed until about 2 weeks have passed. Until then, any shifts could just be a dead cat bounce. Or, in this case, a dead cat drop, we suppose.

Another theme is that significant majorities of voters, and slight majorities of Democrats (in most polls) think Biden is too old to be president and/or that he won't be able to handle another 4 years in office. Consistent with this, a clear majority of voters overall, and again a slight majority of Democrats, want to see Biden step aside. Note that there are polls that are exceptions to this; for example, in the latest from Reuters/Ipsos, 33% of Democrats, and not a majority, said Biden should step aside. Again, we're just describing what is generally true of all these polls.

The third theme, and the rub, as it were, is this: As is usually the case, "generic Democrat" is more popular than any specific Democrat. That is to say, you can't replace somebody with nobody, and once pollsters move from "should Biden be replaced?" to "should Biden be replaced by [X]," then the numbers get much more murky. In fact, even in this still-emotion-driven post-debate window, he is outpolling (or tied with) all Democrats, save one.

That one, of course, is Michelle Obama. In that same Reuters/Ipsos poll, the various Democrat-Trump matchups polled as follows:

Undoubtedly, that Obama result has many Democratic voters dreaming of a switch to the former first lady. However, we are going to have to rain on that parade a little. First, as we've noted many times, she does not want to run. Second, if she did run, there would be a couple of potentially big X-factors, namely how well voters would respond to the notion of an Obama dynasty, and also how voters would respond to the long-peddled right-wing conspiracy theory that Obama was going to be the candidate all along. Third, and finally, it's only some polls that show Obama outpacing Biden by a bunch. Others have her in a statistical tie with him.

We'll say one last thing, at least for now, on the subject of replacing Biden. It is entirely possible that any of these folks could grow their support if they took over for Biden as the Democratic candidate. But it's a real crapshoot. They could screw up once the spotlight is on them. They could have liabilities that are not currently known. And even if those things don't come to pass, it's a very bad look for a party to change candidates mid-stream like this. It suggests a party in disarray, that does not know what the heck it's doing. That's why a mid-campaign switcheroo has never worked. And if such a switch does make the Party look bad, it could cost the Democrats more than just the presidency.

We remain persuaded that the overwhelming likelihood (90%+) is that Biden stays in the race. He's only getting out if the polls turn decisively against him, and the Democratic leadership does as well (two events that would certainly correlate with each other, if they came to pass). And time is a variable here; the later that Biden drops out, the worse the damage would be.

If you look closely again at the image above, you can see that Biden's team is doing a bunch of things to try to put out the fire. He's apologized again, and said that in addition to being ill, he was fatigued from international travel. He's meeting with governors, and he's calling members of Congress, and things like that. Also, the canceled meeting with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is back on. You think someone in the White House believes that might change the narrative, perhaps?

All of this is good and well, but what the President really needs to do is appear on camera, in situations where there is no script and there is no teleprompter. That's the only thing that will convince people (not all of them, but some) that the debate fiasco was an anomaly. Team Biden knows this, and has scheduled an interview with George Stephanopoulos. Excerpts will air on Friday, and the full interview will air on Sunday. We will be watching with great interest. (Z)

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