U.S. President Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden boards Air Force One upon arrival at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach, New York on June 29, 2024. Biden is heading from Long Island, New York to New Jersey for campaign events.

(Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

'Long Knives Out': Calls Grow for Biden to Step Aside After Debate Disaster

A new post-debate poll out Sunday shows that 72% of registered U.S. voters think Biden does not have 'mental and cognitive health' to be president.

What would be the reaction of voters?

In the approximately 60 hours since Thursday night's stunningly bad debate performance by President Joe Biden, the number of individuals and institutions calling for the incumbent to step aside so that another Democratic Party candidate can be chosen to prevent Donald Trump from ever again stepping into the White House has only grown.

From the elite media offices of The New Yorker and the New York Times to a cacophony of political observers from across the ideological spectrum that makes up the Democratic coalition, a unified message has been clear: the President of the United States has shown he is unfit to challenge Trump and the stakes are simply too high to risk defeat.

"This isn't a progressive or centrist or conservative thing," said Aaron Regunberg, a lawyer and progressive organizer, said in a social media post Sunday morning. "There's no ideological valence to it. We simply cannot afford to lose this election to Trump, which means President Biden must step down as nominee and pass the torch to a new generation of leaders."

"No Democrat—literally no Democrat—is saying 'Oh, I'm with Trump now.' We're saying we have better Democratic options to beat Trump, and beating Trump is absolutely essential."

And a new CBS/YouGov poll out Sunday shows that 72% of registered voters believe Biden does not have the "mental and cognitive health to serve as president," compared to 49% who said the same about Trump. That 72% figure for Biden represents a 12-point jump among voters compared to when the same question was asked on June 9.

The New York Times Editorial Board—an otherwise staunch ally of the liberal establishment that has backed Biden—made a splash Saturday by arguing prominently on its pages, under the unmistakable headline "To Serve His Country, President Biden Should Leave the Race," that the president would be doing the nation a service by bowing out. According to the board:

As it stands, the president is engaged in a reckless gamble. There are Democratic leaders better equipped to present clear, compelling and energetic alternatives to a second Trump presidency. There is no reason for the party to risk the stability and security of the country by forcing voters to choose between Mr. Trump’s deficiencies and those of Mr. Biden. It’s too big a bet to simply hope Americans will overlook or discount Mr. Biden’s age and infirmity that they see with their own eyes.

If the race comes down to a choice between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden, the sitting president would be this board’s unequivocal pick. That is how much of a danger Mr. Trump poses. But given that very danger, the stakes for the country and the uneven abilities of Mr. Biden, the United States needs a stronger opponent to the presumptive Republican nominee. To make a call for a new Democratic nominee this late in a campaign is a decision not taken lightly, but it reflects the scale and seriousness of Mr. Trump’s challenge to the values and institutions of this country and the inadequacy of Mr. Biden to confront him.

Yanis Varoufakis, former finance minister for Greece and co-founder of Progressive International, said you know "the long knives are truly out" when the Times has slew of weekend opinion essays targeting the Democratic president.

Meanwhile, The New Yorker magazine's editor David Remnick, another oracle of the liberal media, carved a similar path as he described a political "tide roaring at Biden's feet" and a presidential figure who looks "increasingly unsteady" to the voting public.

"It is not just the political class or the commentariat who were unnerved by the debate," wrote Remnick in his Saturday column. "Most people with eyes to see were unnerved. At this point, for the Biden's to insist on defying biology, to think that a decent performance at one rally or speech can offset the indelible images of Thursday night, is folly."

With the president and First Lady Jill Biden at Camp David for the remainder of the weekend—and reports swirling of a " frenzied" damage-control effort by his staff and internal family consultations underway to "discuss the future of his re-election campaign" while gathered at the retreat complex—progressive political observers said that powerful members of the Democratic Party establishment—including elected leaders, donors, and top DNC officials—can only come to one conclusion after Thursday's debate.

"Quite apart from the existential threat of Trump becoming the next president and ending American democracy, there is pure self-interest," arguedThe American Prospect's Robert Kuttner on Friday. "The futures of every other Democrat up for re-election are on the line." He continued:

With Biden heading the ticket, Democrats will likely lose the House, Senate, state legislatures and governorships, and down-ballot races all the way to school board, as well as the presidency. Chuck Schumer cares more about losing his post as majority leader than he cares about the awkwardness of having to tell his president he needs to go. And to quote Shakespeare, "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly."

Ironies abound. This early debate was the Biden camp's idea. It's evidence of the cluelessness of Biden's inner circle about the president's weakness as a candidate that they thought Biden would triumph. They gloated that they prevailed on the terms—no audience, no on-mic cross talk—and still their man got clobbered.

Biden should have won overwhelmingly—on the issues, on Trump’s lying, and on his own coherence compared to Trump’s. Biden’s policies have been superb and consistent. Trump’s policies, both as president and as future president, are a contradictory medley of disasters.

But from the moment he shuffled onto the set, Biden obviously wasn’t up to it.

In the assessment of other progressives—many of whom have argued for well over a year that Biden was a weak candidate and should be challenged for the nomination—Democratic elites have now caught up to what should have been self-evident.

In a Sunday op-ed at Common Dreams, Sam Rosenthal of the leftist advocacy group RootsAction, which mobilized a "Step Aside Joe" campaign last year in hopes of convincing the president to not seek re-election, argues that the "tide could turn" on Biden in the days ahead if "a few brave elected officials in prominent positions were to speak out" against the president.

"It is not an exaggeration to say that replacing Joe Biden at the top of the ticket is critical to saving our very imperfect democracy," writes Rosenthal. "This is an opportunity for activists and voters to make their voices heard, but an effort needs to take hold quickly, and with urgency, if we want to avoid the coming catastrophe."

In a Sunday newsletter, political journalist Chris Cillizza published in full an email he received from a veteran Democratic political operative who agreed to have his note published so long as he was not named. The email, in part, read:

I just don't understand what in the hell is going on.

As a career Democratic operative who never lived in DC, I can't underscore how different things are outside the bubble. People I talk with who aren't political hacks and just happen to be Democrats or ‘never Trump’ types are mortified and scared after the debate.

My phone hasn't stopped.

These aren't people who are active on Twitter or dedicate their social media feeds to politics, they are just normal folk. They don't understand why the Democratic Party is doing this.

They are horrified and perplexed and absolutely recognize they are being gaslighted...

Albeit anecdotal, Cillizza said the email represents, "a telling sign that all is not well in the Democratic party. And that there are a LOT of worried people out there."

Despite serious questions about who should or would be chosen as the replacement Democrat (including the process by which that decision is made), the widespread anxiety about allowing Trump to march back into the White House due to the Democrats' failure to field a strong and reliable candidate could not be shaken by the Biden's campaign concerted efforts to circle the wagons over the weekend and their appeals for voters (not to mention large donors) to stay calm."We need to have as much discipline as emotion," one unnamed senior Democratic official toldNBC News on Saturday. "It's not politically smart for Biden to step down."

Meanwhile—offering a mirrored counterpoint and not to be overshadowed by the NYT's call for Biden to relinquish the Democratic nomination—the Philadelphia Inquirer on Saturday published an editorial of its own, titled "To serve his country, Donald Trump should leave the race," which acknowledged that even as Biden faltered seriously on Thursday night, those arguing the sitting president should be the one to bow out have it backward.

"Yes, Biden had a horrible night," reads the editorial. "He’s 81 and not as sharp as he used to be. But Biden on his worst day remains lightyears better than Trump on his best."

But progressive pushback to such sentiments ranged from unconvinced to outraged.

"I find the 'Joe had a bad debate but he's still much better than Trump' line so offensive," said Regunberg. "No Democrat—literally no Democrat—is saying 'Oh, I'm with Trump now.' We're saying we have better Democratic options to beat Trump, and beating Trump is absolutely essential."

"If Biden refuses to step aside it will not be an act of high principal or strong character," said journalist and Slate columnist Zachary Carter. "He did not just have a bad night. He is not fit for the job and staying in the race would be the worst kind of vanity and betrayal."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.