Democrats shift the blame on Biden’s debate performance

Democrats are playing the blame game in the aftermath of Joe Biden’s dismal debate.

Top party members aren’t denying the president had a bad night. But they’re increasingly pointing to other factors beyond Biden’s age or cognitive abilities to argue the president isn’t to fault for his debate debacle — including that he was over-prepared, that CNN moderators didn’t adequately fact-check Donald Trump and that his most senior aides and advisers are responsible for his weak showing.

“I’ve been around these things. I’ve been a part of debate preparation before, and I know when I see what I call preparation overload,” Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) told host Dana Bash on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “And that’s exactly what was going on the other night.”

Shifting blame from Biden to other issues started almost immediately after Thursday’s debate began, when his campaign asserted that the president’s hoarse voice and underwhelming start was due to a cold. But over the next few days, Democrats have kept finding more talking points to shift the discussion away from Biden — including that the president’s accomplishments shouldn’t be overshadowed by a 90-minute debate and that Trump’s performance, while stronger, was filled with lies and mischaracterizations.

Whether they can effectively neutralize widespread concerns among Democrats about Biden’s cognitive abilities has yet to be seen. Since the debate, some donors have expressed fear that Biden can’t adequately compete against Trump, and at least one asked whether the president will drop out. The New York Times editorial board argued that he should step aside for the good of the country.

A new CBS News poll found 72 percent of registered voters do not think Biden has the mental and cognitive health to serve as president after the debate. Among registered Democrats, 41 percent of respondents said Biden doesn’t have the mental rigor to be president — up from 29 percent in early June.

Clyburn, who helped rescue Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, isn’t the first Democrat to blame those preparing Biden for the debate. Democratic commentator and former South Carolina lawmaker Bakari Sellers named other Biden allies and advisers that should be taking the blame: Anita Dunn, Ron Klain, Jen O’Malley Dillon. “They need to do the reflection this morning, because what they did in preparation and lead-up to that night was a disservice to the president,” Sellers told CNN a day after the debate.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi sought to highlight the lack of fact-checking of Trump. Speaking on MSNBC, she conceded that Biden didn’t have a good night. But she said it would be nearly impossible to competently debate someone like Trump, who CNN claimed lied more than two dozen times during the debate. Biden did, however, agree to the terms of the debate.

“How can you have a legitimate debate when somebody is totally lying — you have to completely dispel their falsehoods,” she said.

Since Thursday’s debate, the Biden team sought to reassure Democrats and donors that the president can and will continue to campaign. On Friday, Biden held a rally in North Carolina, where he told supporters that he may not be as physically agile as he once was and doesn’t debate as well as he once did. But he emphasized that he’s still up to the job.

And on Saturday, at a fundraiser with high-powered donors at the home of Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, he said: “I understand the concern after the debate … I get it. I didn’t have a great night, but I’m going to be fighting harder.”

Biden is huddling with his family on Sunday at Camp David and is expected to discuss the future of his campaign.

“If [Democrats] weren’t engaged in a little bit of hand wringing they wouldn’t be Democrats,” Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

For their part, Republicans on Sunday reiterated that Biden’s performance on Thursday night highlighted the need to elect Trump and laid bare the president’s flaws.

“I’m not worried about their debate performances,” said Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), who is on Trump’s short list for vice president. “I’m worried about what do these guys look like in the world stage? What did they look like in private meetings with world leaders? And clearly Donald Trump shows he could represent our country well in that form and Joe Biden showed that he couldn’t.”

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