For the sake of the nation, Biden must reassure Americans he is up to a second term

President Joe Biden and former President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump participate in the first presidential debate of the 2024 elections at CNN’s studios in Atlanta, on June 27, 2024. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

There is no sugarcoating the fact that President Joe Biden seemed tired, listless and occasionally confused in his televised debate with former President Donald Trump on Thursday. In other words, he showed his age.

Trump, who at 78 is only a few years younger than the 81-year-old Biden, was initially more restrained and focused than usual.


Yet Trump soon reverted to form, engaging in unfair attacks and spewing falsehoods and wild theories. Even a heartier Biden would have had to contend with Trump’s nonstop lies, which the moderators of the debate declined to fact-check in real time.

On issues from the war in Ukraine to the climate crisis, Trump offered characteristically vague answers. Particularly absurd were his claims that, if he won the election, he would “have that war settled” and secure the release from Russia of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich — even before he was sworn in!

If all one was confronted with was a transcript of the debate, Biden’s performance would look better. He effectively confronted Trump on the former president’s complicity in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and scored several policy points. Alas, for many viewers, that mattered less than the fact that Biden confirmed Trump’s caricature of “Sleepy Joe.”

That doesn’t mean that Biden is senile. He is still vastly preferable to Trump. Nor, despite the visible jitters of many Democrats, does the disappointing debate performance mean that Biden should step aside from running for reelection. However, it does mean that the president has to reassure Americans who might now have doubts about his fitness for another term.

And of course there is the fact that even an on-point Trump is unfit to hold office. Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of an election he lost culminated on Jan. 6 in the storming of the U.S. Capitol by his crazed supporters.

Asked about his actions and inaction on Jan. 6, Trump bizarrely turned the topic to his claims that conditions in the U.S. on that date were positive, including the irrelevant assertion that “we had a great border, nobody coming through, very few.”

Such an attempted deflection of responsibility is outrageous. Trump’s undeniable role in the Jan. 6 catastrophe resulted in his second impeachment by the House. If the Senate had convicted him, Americans might have been spared a possible comeback. But now the decision about Trump’s future rests with the voters, who must be convinced by Biden that he is up for another term.

Asked about his age, Biden countered by citing his administration’s accomplishments. It was a variation of “Watch what we do, not what we say” and it was well-founded.

For the rest of the campaign, Biden needs to do more — and not just on the debate stage — to defend his record in the authoritative way he did at this year’s State of the Union address. The stakes for the nation are too high.