Joe Biden Should Be Boring in Thursday’s Debate

Biden’s biggest obstacle is his age. A devastating New York Times/Siena College Poll in late February found that 47 percent of voters “strongly agree” that Biden is too old to be an effective president—and that a further 26 percent “somewhat agree.” Biden, with his shuffling gait and a voice that sometimes is little more than a whisper, can never fully defeat Father Time. But a steady debate performance on Thursday would go a long way to demonstrate to skeptical voters that Biden can handle four more years in the Oval Office. 

Of course, the debate brings with it major risks for Biden. A series of verbal slips, or a few TV shots in which the president seems confused, could be devastating. But the Biden campaign cleverly convinced Trump to agree to a late June debate. What that means is that the Democrats have four long months to recover from a faltering Biden debate performance. Given that voters currently seemed more concerned about Biden’s age than they do about the risks posed by a second Trump-term, that makes Thursday’s debate a low-stakes gambit for the Democrats—an early attempt to push the stakes of the upcoming election that likely has greater long-term risks for Trump. 

Biden, better than anyone, knows how quickly the effects of a devastating debate can wear off. By all measures, the worst debate performance in history (non-Trump division) was Barack Obama’s listless first encounter with Mitt Romney in early October 2012. A CNN poll after the debate found that viewers by an overwhelming 67-to-25-percent margin believed that Romney had won. But the momentum shifted a week later when an aggressive Biden, by most accounts, bested Paul Ryan in the vice-presidential debate; Romney never regained it his mojo.