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Will He? Or Won’t He? Plus. . .

Inside the Biden bubble. The people plotting to replace the president. France goes right. A tale of two Faucis. And much more.

On today’s Front Page from The Free Press, Joe Nocera on how Anthony Fauci went from hero to zero, the Democrats pay the price for DEI, France’s rightward turn, and much more. But first, the latest on the president.  

I hope some of you have looked up from the news over the past seventy-two hours. I haven’t. All screen-time limits have been out the window since Thursday’s debate. My eyes are bleeding and show no signs of stopping.

Since the moment Trump and Biden walked off that stage—or in Biden’s case, was escorted off by a wife who later, somehow, made matters worse when she praised him for answering every question—American politics has been stuck in limbo.

Will he? Or won’t he?

Every hour brings a new development. Obama backed Biden, posting that “bad debate nights happen.” Okay, Biden’s in! He’s definitely in. Then half of the The New York Times editorial page roster, as well as the paper itself in an editorial, called on Biden to quit. Okay, Biden’s out! Only a matter of time before he makes the announcement.

For those of you who have lives and better things to do other than doomscroll all weekend, a quick recap of what’s gone down as of press time:

  • Thirty minutes into the debate, when it was clear Biden was bombing, the first spin dropped: he has a cold.

  • On Friday, Biden managed to deliver prepared remarks, read from a teleprompter in front of a fired-up crowd of supporters—and this was supposed to be a sign that all was well and Thursday night was just a blip. Bob Woodward said it wasn’t a blip but a “political H-bomb.” 

  • Meanwhile, in the Hamptons on Saturday, Biden reportedly needed a teleprompter for five-minute remarks at a rich guy’s house. 

  • In a report on “the two Bidens,” White House aides explained to Axios’s Alex Thompson that from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the president is “dependably engaged.” (Good thing the job of the president only requires the hours of a dentist.) 

  • The Biden campaign issued a memo citing snap polls immediately after the debate that suggested no major changes in public opinion. The memo also cautioned that “if we do see changes in polling in the coming weeks, it will not be the first time that overblown media narratives have driven temporary dips in the polls.” (Never mind that most polls and models show that Biden is already losing the race. And never mind the poll published Sunday that shows a jump in the percentage of voters who do not think Biden is mentally or physically fit for the job of president to 72 percent.) 

  • The Biden campaign sent a fundraising email that included a chart showing that Biden leads other Democrats in head-to-head matchups against Trump. (The extraordinary thing about this is not that it shows Biden outperforming various untested Democrats, but that Biden’s team decided to include it in a fundraising email at all.) 

  • The media pile-on continued throughout the weekend with everyone from the Times, the house organ of the Democratic Party, to The New Yorker (ditto), to The Economist adding to the chorus of voices calling for Biden to step down. (“It is sad to go to pieces like this, but we all have to do it,” wrote New Yorker editor David Remnick. Ouch.) 

  • And here’s a taste of the enthusiasm from Democrats sticking by Biden. The best David Axelrod could muster was to post on X: “Unless the @POTUS, himself, decides to quit—which he won’t—that issue is settled. The discussion that is going on now was timely a year ago, when few wanted to have it. It’s largely irrelevant today.” 

  • Democratic congressman Ro Khanna defended the president by comparing the leader of the free world to the fictional boxer Rocky Balboa: “Rocky wasn’t the most eloquent in speech. But he was a fighter.” Is this supposed to make us feel better? 

  • By Sunday, Biden had spun through his fundraisers and made it to Camp David for a prearranged family meeting, complete with a photoshoot with Annie Leibovitz for Vogue. Biden was reportedly eager for ideas from family and advisers on how to proceed and is mulling an interview or press conference to address the age issue head on. 

  • According to some accounts, the strongest voices urging Biden to stay the course are his son Hunter, who “wants Americans to see the version of his father that he knows—scrappy and in command of the facts—rather than the stumbling, aging president Americans saw on Thursday night.” The family blames Biden’s top advisers for the mess and are calling for heads to roll. 

Amid all the furious spin, some 300 million Americans are wondering: who will be on the ballot come November? Who is running the country right now

We don’t know the answer to either. 

Is this all too negative? To use the Bidenworld parlance, are Democrats who want Biden to drop out just the “bedwetting brigade”? On Friday, Olivia Reingold headed to New York City’s Stonewall Inn, where Biden commemorated a new monument celebrating gay pride, and got another perspective: that the president’s superfans are standing by him after Thursday’s disaster. 

Are they right to keep calm and carry on? Or do those inside the Biden bubble have a hearing problem? Here’s Olivia’s dispatch from “Inside the Biden Bubble.” 

On the record, everyone important in the Democratic Party is behind Joe Biden. Privately, it’s a very different story. 

Peter Savodnik spent the weekend speaking to more than 20 Democratic activists, strategists, and donors who are panicked and plotting in the event that Joe Biden announces he isn’t seeking re-election.

“Secretly, most of the donors are worried sick and would like to see someone else on the ticket,” a Democratic fundraiser told The Free Press. “They’re not going to speak against him publicly, but they’re very worried—they’re sending specific suggestions about who should replace him.”

Read on . . .

  1. I’m allowing myself one more plug for a response to Niall Ferguson’s conversation-driving Free Press essay on why “We’re All Soviets Now.” And only because it’s from the Grey Lady’s always-interesting conservative-in-residence, Ross Douthat. His takeaway: conservatives should be optimists, not doomers. (New York Times

  2. And for more cheeriness about the United States—we need it right now—here are six charts from Bruce Mehlman that will have you yelling, “America, fuck yeah!” (Age of Disruption

  3. Foreign officials knew from their meetings with the president what the White House has been trying to hide—and what we all saw on Thursday night. “The reading in Europe is that this has been an unmitigated disaster.” (WSJ)   

  4. “At night, I prayed I wouldn’t survive to the next day.” A Ukrainian describes life as a prisoner of war in Russia. (Spiegel International

  5. In the latest evidence that nothing is safe from attack in the culture wars, a scheme funded by the universally beloved Dolly Parton to give free books to kids has been attacked as “white saviorism.” (The Telegraph)  

  6. There are lots of lessons for the far left from Jamaal Bowman’s primary defeat last Wednesday, argues Michael Powell. Whether they’ll bother to learn them is another matter. (The Atlantic)

  7. Top hospitals are offering Long Covid clinics. After studying these programs for a new paper, Vinay Prasad suspects they are little more than scams. (Substack

  8. Kanye West, the prolific rapper turned prolific antisemite was spotted in Russia this past weekend, where he reportedly shopped, checked out the Red Square, and celebrated the birthday of his fashion designer friend. (Times of Israel)

  9. Almost half a decade after the start of the pandemic, just 6 percent of federal workers are working full-time in their offices and 30 percent are fully remote. Some government agencies are using just 10 percent of their office space. (Washington Post)

  10. Kinky Friedman, the satirical musician, author, and onetime Texas gubernatorial candidate, died last week at 79. (Variety) If you want to unplug from the current news cycle, I recommend Matt Labash’s 2006 profile of Friedman on the campaign trail.

Up next, Joe Nocera reads Anthony Fauci’s new memoir—and is struck by the gap between the public health bureaucrat who got everything right back in the 1980s and the man who flubbed it when Covid hit in 2020. 

In his new memoir, On Call, Anthony Fauci devotes tremendous energy and space to his role during the AIDS crisis—with good reason. Despite having spent, at that point, more than a decade as a government health bureaucrat, the 44-year-old scientist could see that the federal government wasn’t devoting enough resources to AIDS research, and that the hurdles required to get a new drug approved made little sense when so many young gay men were dying without access to drugs that just might help them stay alive. 

Fauci successfully fought for more research dollars, and he also helped tear down those hurdles so that AIDS patients could try drugs even though they didn’t have the final stamp of approval from the Food and Drug Administration. He portrays himself as a hero in his book—and he was.

Fauci also devotes tremendous energy and space to his role during the Covid crisis. By then, he was 79 years old, with 52 years in government, including the last 36 as the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He was the government’s chief scientific voice during the pandemic, and he again portrays himself as a hero of the crisis in his book.

But this time he absolutely was not. In fact, his role in the crisis is a big reason why public health officials are now held in such low esteem.

The man who tackled the AIDS crisis was very different from the man who advised presidents—and the country—about Covid-19. The country would have been far better served during the pandemic with the man I’ve come to think of as “AIDS Fauci” rather than “Covid Fauci.” Read on for the full tale of two Faucis. 

→ Biden Democrats hobbled by DEI: Over the weekend, Spectator columnist Melissa Chen posted on X that “one of the major reasons the Democrats are in this bind is because of DEI.” She argued that the diversity, equity, and inclusion craze, with its emphasis on identity over capability, is what forced Biden’s team to pick Kamala Harris as his running mate four years ago. “Instead of being responsive to the desires of ordinary people,” Chen writes, “Biden unnecessarily hamstrung himself—and the rest of the country—by announcing the criteria that his VP will be a BIPOC woman. Yes, this was 2020 when everybody was trying to outperform everybody else on how anti-racist they were. Crazy times.” As a result, “we ended up with an inauthentic word salad VP whom no one likes. And the Dems are finding themselves paying the price for not bothering to listen to the people. The stakes are high for the choice of who gets to occupy the highest office in the land. They used DEI to pick a VP, and they eschewed the normal primary process which allows feedback from voters. What we got was a sanitized, highly managed political process, where the candidate of choice was foisted upon us.” Her comments echo that of Free Press columnist Kat Rosenfield, who predicted back in May that this would happen. Sadly for the Dems, the polls suggest that 59-year-old Harris has an even slimmer chance of beating Donald Trump than Joe Biden. “Buckle up,” Chen concludes in her post, “it’s going to be a wild ride till November.”

→ France goes right: Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party won 34 percent of the vote in the first round of France’s parliamentary elections yesterday. For weeks, polls had predicted Emmanuel Macron’s centrist bloc would be surpassed by the radical right and left—and that is exactly what early projections suggest happened. The far-left New Popular Front won 28 percent of the vote and Macron’s Ensemble bloc came third with 20 percent. This outcome is exactly the result the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy feared when he wrote in The Free Press last week that “we urgently need a union of principled democrats of the left, the right, and the center.” France will vote again this Sunday: in districts where no candidate secured 50 percent in the first round, any candidate who won more than 12.5 percent goes to the second vote. And so the week ahead will involve horse trading and unpredictable three-way votes before we learn how many seats Le Pen’s party really gets, and whether Macron and the far right will have to find a way to share power. 

Oliver Wiseman is a writer and editor for The Free Press. Follow him on X @ollywiseman

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