If Joe Biden wants to prove he can win in November, he’ll need to go the full McCain 

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It may not be fair, after all President Biden has done. But after his disastrous performance at the debate last week, he has something to prove.

Americans want to know — and they deserve to know — that whoever is in the White House is ready to take that 3 a.m. call. The Joe Biden who showed up to debate was not. 

Post-debate polls have begun to confirm what pundits, activists and donors have been saying since last Thursday evening. Independents — the very voters needed to win in November — now want to see him replaced as the Democratic nominee by a two-to-one ratio. After his performance, his is losing to Donald Trump and polling behind other Democrats.

In an election that will be decided by a few thousand voters in a handful of swing states, this is a five-alarm fire. Something must be done to change the trajectory of this race. 

One debate may just be a bad debate. And Biden has a lifetime’s worth of friends and supporters who will stand by him no matter what. But America’s future is at stake, and voters are now legitimately questioning his ability to serve. Their fears are real, and can’t just be dismissed. For Democrats, the question isn’t just whether he can do the job. It’s whether he can do it better than anyone else.  

In 2020, that was true. It may not be true in 2024. While he deserves every opportunity to prove himself, we can’t just accept his team’s assurances that everything is fine.

But there is something he can do to put all these doubts to rest and demonstrate that he can handle the job: Go the full McCain. 

The late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Biden’s good friend, was a master of the town hall and of speaking directly to the American voter. During his presidential campaign in 2000, McCain held 114 town halls — in New Hampshire alone.

McCain was famous for his candid, honest interactions with voters, so much so that his campaign bus was known as the Straight Talk Express. He didn’t hide the ball or his flaws. What you saw was what you got.

Yes, his unscripted answers sometimes got him into trouble. And people loved him for it. 

Biden should follow McCain’s example. He should do three 90-minute town halls a week, every week for three weeks. Take unscripted, spontaneous questions from ordinary people. At the end of the process, America will know — and Biden himself will know — whether he is up to the challenge.  

Yes, this would be physically and mentally demanding. But so is the presidency. And if he doesn’t feel he is up to having that conversation with American voters, then he’s not up to the task of being president. 

There is no shame in stepping aside to save American democracy from the threat of Donald Trump and his plans for an all-powerful presidency — a presidency that the Supreme Court has now held will be above the law. Biden could become an American Cincinnatus, the man who saved the Republic not once but twice — first by having the courage to step into the arena, and then by having the wisdom to step out again. 

The alternative is both shameful and a disaster for the America that Biden loves.

Biden’s place in the history books is assured. What those books will say about him is not. If he refuses to accept the challenge and prove to America and to himself that he is still physically and mentally able to serve in the Oval Office, he may well be remembered as the man whose pride gambled away America’s democracy. 

That’s not the legacy he deserves. He has lived an extraordinary and exemplary life, devoted to the service of his country. He knows better than anyone that this is not about him. It is about doing the best thing for America.  

Mr. President, America is counting on you now, more than ever before. Do not fail the final test. 

Chris Truax is a Republican and an appellate attorney.

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