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Analysis: Biden buys time, but his campaign is under threat every day

Joe Biden’s refusal to resign stifled attempts to remove him from the Democratic ticket on Tuesday (9).

But the president’s abject debate performance and the ensuing challenge have severely weakened his standing in a party already unenthusiastic about his campaign. His terrible two weeks threaten to further narrow his already tenuous path to reelection against a reinvigorated former President Donald Trump, who returned to the campaign trail on Tuesday night with a heated rally in Florida, nine days before he is scheduled to accept the Republican nomination.

Deep unease about the president’s prospects hung over rattled Democratic senators and representatives in Washington on Tuesday as debriefing sessions unfolded behind closed doors on both ends of the U.S. Capitol.

But no critical mass of lawmakers has emerged to seriously threaten Biden’s grip on the nomination, and party leaders in the Senate and House have offered clear, if unenthusiastic, support for the president. Ultimately, Biden’s warning in a letter to lawmakers on Monday (8) — “I am firmly committed to staying in this race” — and the knowledge that primary voters have spoken have left his critics little leeway to act.

But he faces a new test on Thursday (11) when he holds a one-man press conference at the end of the NATO summit. Any slip-up or confusion would destroy the fragile hold Biden has secured on the Democratic Party’s dam of support.

The spectacle of a party debating the viability, strength and mental capacity of its candidate less than four months before Election Day sums up the crisis that has consumed the president’s campaign. There is little evidence so far that Biden is ready to launch the series of events, campaign shifts and media attacks that many Democrats — including those who think he should stay in the race — have urged him to do. Some Democrats now consider it unlikely that he will win in November. And for all of them, the turmoil is existential because Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has rarely been in a stronger political position since entering presidential politics.

Biden survives a critical day

Tuesday was seen as a critical day for Biden because it was the first time lawmakers had met as a bloc since the debate late last month and the July 4 recess that followed. But even as the number of lawmakers calling for his resignation grew, the president has so far this week managed to stabilize the post-debate crisis.

“We want to turn the page. We want to get to the other side of this,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters, though Biden’s dire political fortunes as the oldest president ever mean that may be an impossible aspiration.

Still, Biden made one of his most powerful public appearances in recent memory as he welcomed world leaders to the NATO summit in Washington on Tuesday, even as the effects of aging were obvious in his speech and movements. “Remember, the greatest cost and the greatest risk will be if Russia wins in Ukraine. We cannot allow that to happen,” he said, praising the “largest and most effective defense alliance in the history of the world.”

Biden’s bold rhetoric was a reminder that the summit was supposed to showcase his leadership as one of the West’s most important leaders since World War II and draw a contrast with Trump, who spent his first term berating the White House’s European allies. Instead, the event turned into a test of the president’s acumen.

White House officials told Kayla Tausche of CNN that Tuesday’s speech went as planned and that the team hoped Biden could now return to “business as usual.” That’s unlikely to happen because the president’s every public event has become an excruciating vigil with everyone braced for gaffes, awkward moments or freezes. And his every on-camera appearance is refracted through the prism of a debate performance that etched an unflattering image of a struggling Biden into the minds of 50 million viewers. It’s a low bar for a president to deliver a short, scripted speech on a teleprompter at a summit without suffering a catastrophe. And Biden’s often glacial pace in big public moments creates poignant contrasts with the force of nature he used to be.

The equation is unlikely to change in the next four months because it is endemic to this confrontation and the president’s decision to run for a new term that would end when he is 86.

Biden needs one of his classic comebacks more than ever

Still, it is too early to count Biden out. Voters decide elections, not critical lawmakers or scathing media commentary. The president has repeatedly defied predictions of his political demise and found inner strength in a life marked by personal tragedy and political disappointment. And Trump, the first former president to be a convicted felon, has an uncanny ability to alienate moderate, suburban and undecided voters with his extreme rhetoric and threats against his opponents. The former president will be back in the spotlight next week at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, which will likely turn into a MAGA (Make America Great Again) festival that the Biden camp sees as a chance to sharpen the contrast between Democrat and Republican. A strategy that has fallen apart in the nightmare of the past two weeks.

Most national post-debate polls suggest Biden trailed Trump by at least a few points, in what was a race within the margin of error. So far, there are few high-quality polls in swing states that cover the debate’s aftermath. But Biden was generally seen as trailing Trump in many of the battleground states that will decide the election before the debate, which he needed to use to restart his confrontation with Trump. Instead, he has built up a reverse momentum that he has yet to catch. And it’s not just a matter of horse racing. Biden failed to use his debate responses to frame a sharp contrast with Trump on the issues that matter most to Democrats, including abortion, taxes, character and the former president’s perceived threat to democracy and America’s founding values. This — coupled with Biden’s somewhat delusional disbelief in his own 30-something approval rating and the apparent state of the race — has fueled Democratic despair.

That sense of disappointment with Biden was evident as lawmakers showed up for Tuesday’s meetings, with many declining to speak to reporters on their way out. A source familiar with the Senate Democratic lunch told Dana Bash of CNN that a trio of senators — Michael Bennet of Colorado, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana — have told colleagues they don’t think Biden can defeat Trump.

“It’s true I said that,” Bennet told Kaitlan Collins of CNN on Tuesday. “I think Donald Trump is on track to win this election and perhaps win it by a landslide and take the Senate and the House with him.”

Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with Democrats, said senators believe Biden should face impromptu situations to answer questions from voters. King, asked what would happen if Biden stumbled into such situations, said: “It seems to me like that’s a risk they have to take. If he’s OK, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

One of Biden’s most ardent supporters, Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, defended the president. “We have concluded that Joe Biden is old; we have found out, and the polls have shown that he is old,” Fetterman told CNN . “But we also agree that he’s our guy.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, rarely reluctant to speak at length, was asked several times about Biden but only replied, “I’m with Joe,” in an apparent attempt to end the line of questioning.

Biden got a boost when New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who had privately expressed doubts about the president’s standing on the ticket, said he would now endorse him. But the New York Democrat suggested his decision had as much to do with the difficulty of fending off the party’s presumptive nominee as with feeling that he was a strong bet. “I’m not resigned to this. He’s made it very clear that he’s going to run. He has a great record, one of the most great presidents of the last century. Trump would be an absolute disaster for democracy, so I’m enthusiastically endorsing Biden,” Nadler said.

The president has also been buoyed by the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, a vital power player in the House Democratic Caucus. Many of the CBC members are in solidly blue districts and may be under less pressure than frontline Democrats, who criticized the president’s debate performance. Texas Rep. Marc Veasey expressed concern about those colleagues as he criticized Biden’s attempt to rebound from the debate. “Everything I’ve seen so far has not shown me that this is going to be enough to get there. I just don’t think this dog is going to hunt,” Veasey told Manu Raju of CNN . “I think he has a long way to go and I think there are stronger candidates who would have a better chance of defeating Trump at this point, but if he says he’s going to stay, (then) he’s the nominee,” Veasey said.

Some Democratic leaders sought to ease their members’ anguish by launching an attack on Trump. “Every member of the House Democratic Caucus has a clear view of what the stakes are in this election,” said Representative Pete Aguilar, the caucus chairman. “Donald Trump cannot be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office, and his extremist allies must never be allowed to pass a national abortion ban or his dangerous Bill 2025, which would erode our democracy and enable Trump’s worst impulses,” the California Democrat said. But the force of his press conference presentation only served to highlight the lines of attack that Biden largely missed in the debate.

There was a more upbeat mood around the Democratic ticket in Las Vegas, where Vice President Kamala Harris deployed the forensic rhetoric of her former prosecutorial background to attack Trump. “I will say that anyone who vilifies immigrants, who promotes xenophobia, anyone who fuels hate, should never again have the opportunity to stand behind a microphone and the seal of the President of the United States,” Harris said.

For Democrats who think Harris would be a better candidate than the president, her fiery performance was a reminder of an alternative path to 2024 that Biden has moved to close off.

Source: CNN Brasil

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