US Election: Blunder versus Bluster

Professor David Dunn examines the debate performances of Donald Trump and Joe Bide, and what this means for the choice before the American people.

Joe Biden speaking at a podium in front of the Capital building in Washington

In challenging Donald Trump to a presidential debate this early in the election year Biden intended to focus attention on his opponent and the prospect of his return to the White House. In practice, however, the result of the debate is exactly the opposite. After a stumbling, hesitant and low-energy performance all the focus is now on Biden’s fitness to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for the November election. Despite Trump’s lies, evasions and bombast, his apparent victory in the debate has meant the scrutiny has shifted away from his plans for a second term just as the prospect of that has increased.

Even though his debate performance is almost universally seen as disastrous, removing Biden from the ticket is neither easy to do procedurally nor a straightforward choice for his party. Biden leads his party and if he wants to stay on and fight, as he has given every indication so far that he wants to, it is virtually impossible to remove him. Congressional and party efforts to do so will therefore focus on persuading him to do the right thing for the party. But there are other hurdles to finding a better candidate to replace him. The obvious replacement, his vice president Kamala Harris is seen as ineffective and unpopular, and America has so far shown little inclination to vote for a woman, let alone one of colour, for President. Replacing Biden might also therefore have to involve persuading her to step aside.

If this was to be achieved there are many other contenders among Democratic Governors such as Gretchen Whitmer, Gavin Newson, or J.B. Pritzker who might fill the slot, but so far opinion polls have suggested that they would do less well in November against Trump. New opinion polls will now be commissioned to see whether that situation has now changed after what has been described as the worst presidential debate performance in history. The Democratic party now faces the dilemma of sticking with a candidate who seems mentally and physically too feeble to campaign, let alone serve for another four years, or risk replacing him with a newcomer of uncertain prospects.

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