Joe Biden (left) and Donald Trump | Credit: Courtesy

In an epic political fail, President Joe Biden during Thursday night’s globally watched debate confirmed virtually every adverse impression and disquieting concern voters express about his age, physical frailty, and cognitive decline.

From the moment he shuffled onto the stage at CNN’s Atlanta studio, to a cringeworthy brain freeze a few moments into the event, and a muddled closing statement that omitted key arguments of his case against Donald Trump, the president spoke in a weak and raspy voice as he lost his train of thought at several points and, at others, served up confusing and tangled responses. 

Although Biden’s performance strengthened as the debate went on, and he scored some points on Trump’s legal problems, the pandemic, and climate change, the president was most often on defense. His visage reflected every one of his 81 years.

Trump, to the surprise of no one, lied continually throughout the debate — a “staggering amount” of more than 30 times, according to CNN’s fact-checker — boasting and blustering a fog of falsehoods, absurd exaggerations, sneering insults, and nasty trash talk.

He refused multiple times to say if he would accept the results of the election if he lost, sought to rewrite history about the January 6 insurrection and his role in it, concocted whoppers about the abortion rights issues, and provided not a shred of evidence that he would be any less divisive, brutish, and cruel than during his four years in the White House.

In debating Biden, however, he could have been Jack Kennedy.

“Defcon 1,” one prominent local Democrat texted moments after the debate ended, capturing the massive anxiety attack that instantly gripped the party in the wake of Biden’s awful performance.

The great irony is that it was the Biden campaign that sought last night’s debate, the earliest in presidential campaign history, as an opportunity to reset the narrative in a race which he appeared to be narrowly losing, while reassuring his supporters that he is physically and mentally up to the rigors of the contest, and of his job.

Instead the president helped validate the Trump campaign’s attacks on him as weak and befuddled, while sending shock waves of panic through his own party’s establishment.

As a political matter, the event is likely to spin off at least three key developments:

• There were multiple news reports last night that some Democratic elected officials, concerned that Biden will drag them and the party down with him in November, were desperately formulating strategies to try to convince the president to step aside, in favor of opening the nomination to the national convention in August.

• There is little doubt that the ferocity of the Trump campaign’s already vicious personal attacks about Biden’s fitness for office would grow more intense, and aim increasingly at the prospect of Kamala Harris, the widely unpopular Vice President, succeeding to the presidency if he did not survive a second term.

• There is now a new opportunity for third-party candidates, including conspiracy theorist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and progressive academic Cornel West, both running as independents, and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, to move to attract support from undecided and soft Biden voters.

Given the sky-high stakes of the election, and current political conditions, this was no ordinary presidential debate but a defining milestone of an extraordinary campaign.

That said, a CNN snap poll of debate watchers — a self-selecting universe of registered voters — found them saying that Trump won the debate by a 2-1 ratio.

Worse for Biden, a large majority — 57 percent — of this group answered “none” when asked how much confidence in his ability to lead the country.

Biden’s physical appearance, halting delivery, and mental lapses were problematic in a viewing of the debate. He comes across somewhat better through a reading of the debate transcript, which you can find here.

Early voting for the November 5 election starts in several states on September 20. Ballots in California will be mailed out beginning October 7.

Jerry Roberts is the host of the weekly news program Newsmakers with JR and an occasional contributor to the Independent and the brains behind our National Affairs Desk.

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