'Preparation overload': Democrats defend Biden after debate flop as voter support flinches

U.S. President Joe Biden attends the first presidential debate hosted by CNN in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., June 27, 2024. 

Brian Snyder | Reuters

Democrats are making the rounds on the Sunday media circuit working to reshape perceptions about President Joe Biden after he delivered a stumbling debate performance that left his voters cringing and his party in a damage-control frenzy.

“Yes, it was a bad performance,” South Carolina’s Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, a close Biden ally, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I know when I see what I call preparation overload. And that’s exactly what was going on the other night.”

The South Carolina Democrat followed the post-debate spin formula that has emerged from Biden supporters since the Thursday showdown: Acknowledge the fumble and then pivot to critiques of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, former President Donald Trump.

“Joe Biden should continue to run on his record. I do believe that we will find him when contrasted with the record of the four years of Trump to be exactly what we need going forward,” Clyburn said.

Former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton followed that structure in similar arguments on Friday.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga. and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also jumped to Biden’s defense on the Sunday media junket.

Despite the full-court press, Biden’s Thursday debate performance, marked by several instances where he tripped over his words or trailed off mid-answer, has only amplified voter concerns about his age and fitness to carry out a second presidential term.

A new CBS News/YouGov poll taken between June 28 and June 29 found that 72% of registered voters surveyed do not think Biden should run for president, up from 63% in February. The poll also found that 72% of the respondents do not think that Biden has the mental and cognitive ability to serve as president, a seven percent increase since June 9.

A poll taken so shortly after a major event like Thursday’s debate represents a knee-jerk reaction. A more accurate snapshot of public sentiment may emerge as the initial hype dies down and voters have more time to process. The CBS News poll surveyed 1,130 registered voters and had a margin of error of +/- 4.2%.

But those new numbers come in direct tension with Biden’s argument that voters are not as down on his debate blunders as much as political pundits.

“I understand the concern about the debate. I get it. I didn’t have a great night. But here’s what [is] not getting reported: Voters had a different reaction than the pundits,” the president said at a Saturday campaign event in East Hampton, N.Y. “Since the debate, polls show a little movement, and we’ve moved us up, actually.”

Democrat candidate, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Republican candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump, attend a presidential debate in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., June 27, 2024. 

Brian Snyder | Reuters

Biden and Trump are scheduled for a second debate on Sept. 10, though it is unclear whether both candidates will follow through.

Ultimately, the debate has triggered a Democratic reckoning over whether Biden should remain the presumptive nominee.

Some Democratic strategists, along with newspaper editorial boards across the country have suggested he should step down and forfeit his delegates ahead of August’s Democratic National Convention to allow someone else to take on Trump in November.

Biden is at Camp David on Sunday, joined by his family where he is expected to discuss the path forward of his reelection bid, according to NBC News.

In the meantime, the Biden campaign has been raking in large fundraising hauls in the wake of the debate. As of Sunday morning, the campaign had raised $33 million since Thursday, $26 million of which came from grassroots donors, according to Biden campaign spokesperson Kevin Munoz.

Munoz added that nearly half of that grassroots funding came from donors giving money to the campaign for the first time this election season.

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