Democrats are rolling out a post-debate playbook to help Biden recover

Leading Democrats on Sunday scrambled to defend President Biden and defuse concerns about his candidacy that surfaced after he struggled to answer policy questions during Thursday’s debate and failed to mount a forceful argument against former President Donald J. Trump.

The influx of deputies followed a concerted effort by Biden and his team last weekend to reassure concerned donors, party leaders and supporters who had raised questions about whether he should pursue his candidacy.

“Look, if they weren’t wringing their hands a little bit, they wouldn’t be Democrats,” Sen. Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia, told NBC News.

In interviews on several TV networks, Mr. Warnock and other Democrats offered versions of the same argument: that Mr. Biden should be judged not by his performance in a 90-minute debate but by his record as president over the past three and a half year. and that voters should give more weight to Mr. Trump’s numerous false statements in the debate and his continued indications that he would not accept an election loss.

“I think the president had a rough night, just like any of us,” Maryland Governor Wes Moore said on CBS News, adding: “Joe Biden is not going to take himself out of this race, and neither should he must do.”

Mr. Warnock and Mr. Moore were among a number of high-profile Democrats who spoke out in an effort to bolster Mr. Biden’s standing within the party, including Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina; Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, a former speaker of the House of Representatives; and Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Fetterman, in an interview with Fox News, pointed to his own shaky debate performance in 2022 after suffering a stroke — as well as his subsequent victory. “Everyone shouted that, that was the end of my career,” he said, criticizing members of his party for “wetting the bed.”

Mr. Clyburn and Ms. Pelosi, strong and longtime Biden supporters who appeared on CNN, focused less on Mr. Biden’s performance and more on his record as president.

“I don’t believe Joe Biden has a problem leading for the next four years because he has done a great job over the last three and a half years,” Mr. Clyburn. He also convicted Mr. Trump’s reference during the debate to “black jobs,” which he described as an implication that “there are certain jobs for black people and there are certain jobs for white people.”

Mrs. Pelosi urged not to “judge a presidency based on one debate.” She also said she expected voters to care more about abortion rights, the economy and climate change, adding: “The reaction to Donald Trump’s lies is something that TV may not focus on, but people do.”

One of the few Democrats to speak openly about the concerns was Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland. “There are very honest, serious and rigorous conversations taking place at every level of our party,” Mr. Raskin on MSNBC, arguing that this was a good thing, contrasting “the non-existent dialogue and conversation that took place in the Republican Party following the conviction of Donald Trump.”

Republicans remained on the offensive Sunday, attacking Biden’s performance during the debate and questioning his fitness for office. At the same time, they defended Trump’s claims about the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a contender for Trump’s running mate and appearing on NBC News, pushed back against Democrats’ defense of Mr. Biden’s cognitive abilities, saying: “All of America saw it. And you know who else saw it? Our adversaries saw it. Putin saw it, Xi saw it, the ayatollah saw it.”

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, once a Trump critic who is now an enthusiastic supporter, made the same argument against Biden, with whom he served in the Senate.

“He’s compromised,” Mr. Graham said on CNN. “That’s the story here. That’s what the world saw — a compromised president.”

At the same time, Republicans struggled on some issues to defend Trump’s own debate performance. He spoke more clearly than Biden, but also made many false claims and indicated that he might not accept the election results if he lost again, as he did in 2020.

Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, another candidate to become Trump’s running mate, accused journalists of not fact-checking Biden. “There was a 24-hour period where everyone was honest that there was an incredible contrast between Donald Trump’s energy and command of the facts and Joe Biden’s clear inability to do his job as president,” he said on CBS News. “And now, of course, we’ve moved into this new media cycle where people are trying to run for cover.”

Mr. Burgum inaccurately compared Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election to past efforts by Democrats, who pursued only legal challenges and conceded losses. “Donald Trump left the White House at the end of his term on January 20,” he said on NBC. “We had a smooth transition.”

When host Kristen Welker pointed out that the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters on January 6, 2021, to try to stop the certification of the election was “not exactly a smooth transition,” Mr. Burgum said, “Well. I think we should say there was a smooth transition.”

Mr. Graham said on CNN that Mr. Trump was right not to commit to accepting the results.

“Then what should you say?” Mr. Graham asked. “‘Yes, I will accept it regardless of whether I think I have been cheated?'”

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