Chairman's Desk

If Joe Biden really wants to stop Donald Trump, he’ll get out of the way

It was over before it began.

Thursday night, U.S. President Joe Biden lost the moment he walked onto the CNN stage. He moved like an animatronic from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. He spoke softly, like a hoarse ghost. He looked down — like someone who didn’t know where he was.

If there is one sound Americans will remember, it will be that of their President struggling to find the words that just didn’t come.
And if there is one image that will be seared onto the collective psyche of the American imagination, it will be the look of fatigue and bewilderment cast across their President’s face.

It will either go down in a fireball of defeat on Nov. 5 — taking many “lower ballot” candidates with him — or President Biden will do what’s right for his country, his party, his family and, quite frankly, himself, and resign as the Democratic nominee by the time the last Independence Day fireworks disappear from the sky.

If the way Biden walked on stage was the indictment, the following exchange was the final verdict.

Biden: … Making sure that we’re able to make every single solitary … person … eligible for what I’ve been able to do with the COVID — excuse me — with — um — dealing with everything we have to do with — look — we finally beat Medicare. (Anchor interjects)

Trump: He’s right he did beat Medicare; he beat it to death.

That was not the only Biden bluster. And it was far from the only Trump savaging.

Joe Biden’s performance Thursday night came up well short. He was wide of the mark on every metric that matters.

On the economy, he failed to convince Americans he was working to make life more affordable and to explain what was wrong with Trump’s vision. On Afghanistan, in which Trump hammered Biden on the embarrassing withdrawal, Biden failed to point out that it was Trump who made the exit deal with the Taliban in the first place. On abortion, this election cycle’s equivalent to a “get out of jail free card” for Democrats, he failed to directly and persuasively speak to women voters about what a second Trump presidency would put at stake for them.

On golf, well, don’t even get me started. All I can say is both men deserve an Academy Award nomination for best impersonations of seven-year-olds at recess.

And if all of that wasn’t horrifying enough, this shambolic performance allowed former president Trump to do what he is a master at: lie, dissemble, conflate; to get away with the symbolic debate equivalent of “shooting people and not losing any votes.”

But worst of all, Biden never told the American people how, exactly, they would benefit from a second Biden term.

This was a glaring indication of a campaign — and a candidate — fundamentally lost.

Remember, it was the Biden camp that wanted this debate: at this surprisingly early time, on this stage, with muted microphones.

They did so because they knew they were down: in crucial swing states, with disengaged voters, with younger voters and with African American voters.

But little did they know what down was. That is until 9 p.m. last night when they found out that it is a place from which there is, for their team, simply no way back.

I’ll spare you more pile on. Biden deserves better after a lifetime of public service.

And I’ll spare you the lengthy campaign strategy lecture that underpins this advice.

But of this I am certain: If Biden really wants to defeat Trump, he will get out of the way. There simply isn’t a minute to wait because the value of such a withdrawal is logarithmic. The truism says, “go to end game as fast as possible.” After all, you are going there anyway.

I know because I’ve been there before from my years of experience as an adviser on municipal, provincial, and federal campaigns here at home. I’ve been in the room alongside headstrong candidates, who — after a self-inflicted blow — are coddled by members of the inner circle attempting to justify the unjustifiable. My only regret was not saying what needed to be said as early and often as necessary: that there was no coming back.

I understand well that the options in front of the president are as lousy as they are unfair. But he is where he is. And the only way he can recover a modicum of respect is to follow those great leaders who have gone before him and not only put country before self but done so at the expense of self.

This article first appeared in Toronto Star on June 28, 2024.

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