Jim Hartman: The unmitigated debate disaster

Jim Hartman

Jim Hartman

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In the most consequential presidential debate ever, President Joe Biden showed all watching that he isn’t up to serving four more years in office.

On the largest set in politics, the 81-year-old president confirmed the worst fears about his age and capacity to lead.

Biden’s visual frailty, rambling answers and constant gaffes triggered a meltdown of epic proportions uniting Democrats in a state of political panic.

Biden lost the debate in the first 10 minutes when he failed to speak clearly, did so in an unusually hoarse voice and sometimes couldn’t complete a coherent sentence.

His blank stares with mouth agape during Trump’s answers contrasted with Trump’s smirk while Biden stumbled over his words.

After spending a week at Camp David in debate prep, it appeared as though Biden was struggling to recall what he had been prepped to say, but no longer has the memory to do it.

Without a script prepared by his aides and without his teleprompter, the president looked and sounded lost.

Trump won the debate by default. He looked fit and spoke fluently.

However, Trump gave only a mediocre performance.

He spewed falsehoods and defended the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Trump made more than 30 false claims during the debate, while Biden made at least nine false or misleading claims.

Trump also ducked question after question – and his exaggerations and falsehoods kept coming. As the debate progressed, he returned to his self-pitying line of the “stolen” 2020 election.

Trump hedged on accepting the outcome of the 2024 election and couldn’t resist saying Biden deserved to be charged as a criminal, and he didn’t rule out charging him.

This sense of personal grievance calls up for voters the mayhem that was evident in Trump’s tumultuous first term.

But the bitter truth for Democrats is that Trump’s liabilities may not matter if Biden is the nominee.

Trump appears vigorous and can remind voters of a booming pre-COVID economy. Biden looks like a feeble old man no match for going head-to-head with Russia’s Vladimir Putin or China’s Xi Jinping.

It’s not irrational to worry about Russia, China, Iran or North Korea exploiting the perception of U.S. weakness even in the remaining six-plus months of Biden’s term.

Democrats ignored the warnings on Biden.

The loudest public alarm came in February with the release of Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report, a document he produced after spending five hours interviewing the president that revealed Biden displayed significant memory problems.

Biden’s closest advisers defiantly beat back suggestions that he showed signs of decline. Yet, they had already become increasingly apparent inside Washington and the world for months, numerous interviews revealed.

Axios reports there’s turmoil in the White House over Biden’s calamitous performance with an increasing number of Biden’s own aides questioning his mental fitness, and furious about what they see as a lack of candor from their bosses.

Biden can only be dependably engaged from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Outside that time range or while traveling abroad, Biden will likely have verbal gaffes and become fatigued, aides told Axios.

It was clearly a selfish act for Biden to seek a second term. They sought to hide his decline from the public for the entire election campaign.

The debate instead exposed him and the long cover-up of the truth.

All of this presents Democrats with an excruciating dilemma.  Calls increase for Biden to withdraw. 

Liberal editorial boards at the New York Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Chicago Tribune are among opinion leaders calling for Biden to drop out.

The Biden family has circled the wagons with First Lady Jill Biden and son Hunter reportedly the loudest voices urging the president not to withdraw.

His inner circle’s longtime denial of his decline now puts Democrats in a bind.

The reckoning on Biden’s age has arrived.

E-mail Jim Hartman at lawdocman1@al.com.

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