President Joe Biden and former president and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participate in the first debate of the 2024 elections at CNN’s studios in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

TGIF: The President Has a Cold

Jamaal Bowman runs in the wrong district—and loses. Boeing strands astronauts in space. Hot lawyers for Hezbollah. UBI doesn’t work. And much more.

Friends, this is likely my last TGIF of the summer. In my stead will be an incredible roster of guest writers. People we would never be able to afford on staff. Am I leaving for vacation? Certainly not. I’m leaving this summer to launch and nurture a new worker who will bring glory to the party. I’m leaving to produce a new child—Christopher Hitchens Iron Dome Paglia Bowles Weiss, your future king. I want you to absolutely savage my replacements.

→ The debate happened: I don’t know where to begin. In my home we’ve been screaming at the TV for two hours as I write this. Biden walked on stiff, uncomfortable, strange. He held a bewildered expression throughout the night, his mouth slightly open, his eyes wide, staring off into the distance, rarely smiling. I won’t say Trump looked young (he isn’t), but he is less stiff and his eyes blinked normally, jaw firmly in control of mouth. And then they started talking. The extent of Biden’s cognitive decline is undeniable and, speaking as a citizen who wishes my president the best, devastating. For a strange moment as the debate went on, the entire media commentariat was in agreement: this is a disaster for Joe Biden, and the Democrats need to replace him. 

Here’s Nicholas Kristof, éminence grise of progressive political commentators: “I wish Biden would reflect on this debate performance and then announce his decision to withdraw from the race, throwing the choice of Democratic nominee to the convention.” Here’s Kasie Hunt, CNN anchor: “The voice, open-mouthed look, and visual contrast between President Biden and former President Trump all have Democrats I’m talking to nearly beside themselves watching this debate.” Here’s top pollster Dave Wasserman: “This debate making abundantly clear that Biden’s insistence on running for another term. . . has gravely jeopardized Dems’ prospects to defeat Trump.”

The low moment for Trump was probably when Biden said Trumpo had “the morals of an alley cat” (great line). And Trump found himself saying: “I didn’t have sex with a porn star.” Which is just. I mean. With all due respect. . .  

Low moment for Biden, other than overall presentation, was when his words became a nonsensical garble and then the camera panned to an alarmed-looking Trump for his response. “I really don’t know what he said,” Trump says. “I don’t think he knows what he said either.” Or maybe it was when Biden said, perplexingly: “We finally beat Medicare.”

High moment for both was the two of them fighting about their golf skills. Biden goes: “I got my handicap when I was vice president down to a 6.” Trump hits back: “That’s the biggest lie—that he’s a 6 handicap—of all.” Biden: “I was an 8 handicap and—and—” Trump: “I’ve seen your swing. I know your swing.”

And kudos to CNN’s moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, praised by the left and right for being fair. Turning off the mics after each candidate hit their time limit was really smart, as was having no studio audience. It made for a calmer, more focused debate, and it made it harder for Trump to be a bully. But it still didn’t save Joe. 

On CNN, Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s former communications director, said: “It was a really disappointing debate performance from Joe Biden. I don’t think there’s any other way to slice it.” Van Jones, close to tears, suggested Biden should drop out. CNN correspondent John King said senior Democrats are considering going to the White House to urge Biden to drop out. The most positive thing former Obama campaign chief David Axelrod could muster was to warn Republicans that if Biden did drop out, Trump might be in trouble.

I won’t fact-check here, but they both told huge and strange lies (Trump said Democrats allow killing children after they’ve been born full-term; Biden said the Border Patrol guys endorsed him). Maybe I’m slap-happy, but this random left-wing Twitter account made me laugh a lot. 

In a last-minute scramble, Biden’s team leaked to friendly media: The President has a cold. The Biden after-party featured an extraordinarily animated Jill Biden saying to her husband: “Joe, you did such a great job. You answered every question! You knew all the facts. And let me ask the crowd, what did Trump do? He lieeeed!” 

I think the question we all have to ask after tonight is simple: If this is Biden, who’s been running our country? Like, practically, who’s been doing the job job of it? Jill Biden? The White House handyman? The interns? Karl Rove? A random Houthi? I’m not mad, I just want to know. Because the people who have been pushing to keep him in office certainly know he’s this bad, and they must like it that way. Weak and confused, he can be used, kept as a pet moderate. Interns, release the old man, just tell us your demands, and we can figure something out.

→ The cheapfakes are getting really good: Now that the dam has broken on Biden’s age and mental fitness, recall what happened in recent months to those who said out loud what was obvious last night—and has been pretty clear for some time. 

Only a week ago, Biden’s people were slamming “cheapfakes” and selective editing as dangerous weapons of misinformation that might leave the American people with the idea that the president is in anything other than good health. Okay, well, on last night’s evidence, these cheapfakes are getting really good. 

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that a few Washington insiders who’d been in meetings with the president noticed “signs of slipping.” The story was slammed as “pointed” and “partisan.” And when Special Counsel Robert Hur called Biden an “elderly man with a poor memory,” the response from Biden and everyone around him was indignant: “How the hell dare he,” said the president. Good liberal Ezra Klein was yelled at by his cohort for suggesting back in February that Biden should step aside.

Unnamed sources were always praising Biden’s “energy” and “passion.” We’re all just thinking about memory and age in the wrong way, guys. 

Americans weren’t fooled by any of this—poll after poll has shown that a majority of voters think Biden is too old to do the job properly. Dean Phillips, the plucky Minnesotan congressman who dared to run against Biden in the primary, was probably feeling pretty good about his efforts last night. Me, I fell asleep thinking about those shaky hands, the strange distant gaze, and the nuclear football.

→ If not Joe, who? Let’s say Biden decides to drop out. Who takes his place? You all know my pick (my Hillary). Readers, comment with your replacement ideas. And to Republican readers, put on your most sympathetic Democrat hats and make a real suggestion!

→ Nate Silver is back, baby:

Here’s Nate Silver’s model: 

538’s model paints a different picture: of a close race with Biden just ahead. So who is right? The famous pollster, who is now going it alone, or the new management? We’re sitting back, grabbing our popcorn, and focusing on the real battle here: whether an independent journalist or his old media company is going to win. That’s the big 2024 race for me. Okay, maybe the actual race is about to get interesting. 

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