Can Biden recover from the debate? Don’t bet on it. 

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President Biden’s disastrous debate performance last week is not news, regardless of the furious pushback from his deluded loyalists. And fact-checking Donald Trump’s golf handicap won’t fix this mess. 

The more one analyzes the road ahead, the more obvious it is that a continued Biden candidacy is a kamikaze mission sure to wreck the Democratic Party. If logic prevails, Biden would be out within the week. But Team Biden has shown anything but logic in the past six weeks. 

No path forward 

Only a complete meltdown by Trump saves Biden — and that’s if Biden doesn’t have a new meltdown of his own, which is a far better bet. It is possible Biden doesn’t drop much in the polls, but that will only engender false hope. 

Given how polarized American politics is, the floor for any Democrat in a competitive race may be as high as 45 percent, although it is probably a touch lower. The mutual enmity between the parties gives the Republicans and Trump likely about the same number. 

Looking at RealClearPolitics, when you average the June polls that do not include “lean Biden/Trump” voters (i.e., voters who initially say they are undecided), Biden was at 43.5 percent vs. 45.1 percent for Trump on the day of the debate. The approval ratings for each were Biden at 39.7 percent approve and Trump at 42.6 percent. Biden was running 3.8 percent above his approval and Trump 2.5 percent.  

That means both candidates are propped by a combination of voters who are neutral or don’t like them but loathe the other more. 

It is improbable the debate made Trump more likable to reluctant Trump voters, but it certainly did not push those voters to Biden. Already behind, the president needs to target both undecideds and reluctant Trump voters. With those reluctant voters likely consolidating with Trump, Biden loses a vital target. 

If Trump consolidates his current vote and adds a mere 1 percent from undecideds, he edges over 46 percent. If Robert Kennedy, Jill Stein and the other Quixotes hoover up just 8 percent of the vote, Biden loses the popular vote to Trump. FiveThirtyEight has Kennedy alone running at 9 percent. Even if Kennedy et al. collapse, they seem sure to get at least to the 5 percent protest vote reached in 2016. Biden would have to grab practically all the remaining undecideds to beat Trump. 

More importantly, votes for Biden and Trump are not distributed evenly throughout the Electoral College. In the battleground states, Trump polls significantly better, meaning some of Biden’s votes are wasted votes in California and other populous Democratic states. 

If Trump consolidates his vote in each of the swing states plus 1 percent, he gets to 49.6 percent in Arizona, 48.8 percent in Nevada, 49 percent in Pennsylvania, 48.3 percent in Wisconsin and 47.5 percent in Michigan. With the nuisance candidates sure to pick up a few percent, Biden loses all those states. Georgia, where Trump has led for over 18 months, would get to 47.2 percent and stretch his lead to 5 points. Worth noting, Trump has led Biden in eight straight Pennsylvania polls, led in Arizona for over 14 months, and in Nevada since October. 

And those polling numbers have held up through two civil trial losses, a criminal trial loss, a thoroughly incompetent Republican Congress, Trump’s ongoing circus and the desperate attempts by the traditional establishment media to prop up Biden. The national numbers have barely budged in months. 

And the above analysis is just Trump consolidation plus 1 point for the duration of the election. That is very generous. Even after picking up at least four undecided voters for every Trump vote, Biden still loses. Considering the glacial movement of voters, expecting a massive jump out of the blue for Biden is fool’s gold. 

Nothing left in the bag 

Even though a generous analysis of the numbers puts Biden as a near-certain loser, the dynamics of the race are even worse. For starters, what are the Democrats going to say about Trump that hasn’t already been said? The former president is a liar / criminal / threat to democracy. The public has heard that for the last eight years. Are Democrats going to say it louder? 

Blinded by their own sanctimony and propaganda, they fail to see how their self-righteousness rings hollow. After all, the Democrats have a senator and congressmen under indictment for taking payoffs from foreign governments. They have interfered in GOP primaries to promote MAGA candidates for their own electoral benefit. Several Democratic states tried to eject Trump from the ballot before any conviction and without any public comment or hearing. 

For his part, Biden lies plenty. His history of plagiarism, misstatements, bad judgment and flip-flopping is legendary. Does Trump’s collection of lies and exaggerations equal Biden’s delusion that the evacuation from Afghanistan was competent? Most American disagree; Biden’s approval went from positive to negative in the wake of that disaster and he has never recovered. 

The public may well figure Trump is a bigger liar. But it’s easy to see all politics corrupt — the Democrats are nearly as dishonest, and willing to sacrifice democracy for power. 

The public has said clearly for two years inflation is the top concern and immigration has been a major issue for at least eight months. All Biden can come up with is railing at corporate greed and a weak-sauce border policy that puts a quota on illegal behavior and does nothing to address the millions of illegal entries from the past three years. 

Bet on Biden getting worse 

And then there is Biden himself. It is unquestionable that the president is in mental decline, something apparent before the debate — just the extent was unclear. When you are 81 and in mental decline, that decline does not reverse, it continues. You would think the “party of science ®” would understand that. 

Biden must work without a net twice in the next three months. Can he get through his nomination acceptance speech at the convention? He could not make it 20 minutes in his State of the Union speech without flubbing his lines. Lowering expectations will not work. Expectations and scrutiny are going to increase, not decrease. 

And how’s that second debate going to work? Biden will be three months older, and a draw won’t help. Trump has his own problems, to say the least. But he benefits from decades in the media glare, combat with the press and dozens of rallies. Public debate is second nature for Trump. And switching up the rules to make the debate more of a circus, which the incompetent Team Biden should have done, won’t be accepted by Trump or the media. 

Biden must debate. The thought that Team Biden has been hiding the president’s true condition, perhaps for a long time, is out there. Cancelling and hunkering down will be the final nail in his political coffin. 

Sure, Trump could have his own meltdown and his impending sentencing will be bad. But Biden’s apparent infirmity is far worse, and likely to deteriorate. As the election draws nearer, the question about what Biden will be like at age 83, 84 and 85 will compound everything. 

With Biden, the Democrats are facing defeat. But they are also facing the prospect of a rout. What if disgruntled Democrats see Biden losing and decide the best vote is for Kennedy? Could angry young voters desert and deliver Trump a thumping Electoral College win? Could a few percent stay home and knock out three or four Democratic senators? That scenario seems more likely than Biden eking out a win. 

If Team Biden cannot come to grips with this reality, not one of them belongs in politics. 

Keith Naughton is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm, and a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant.         

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