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Guest Opinion

A poor debate performance would doom Biden


The most important date of this year’s presidential campaign is a week away when President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump face off in a debate hosted by CNN. They will not be allowed props or written notes. There will not be any partisan or distracting live-audience. The candidates’ microphones will be muted when their allotted time is over, preventing either from interrupting and talking over the other.

Biden must demonstrate the poise and forcefulness he exhibited during this year’s State of the Union Address. He has far more to lose from a weak performance. Any real or perceptual hints of cognitive decline Trump could exploit, factual misstatements, or major gaffes will likely end his realistic chances of winning another term.

Where Trump is concerned, his MAGA base and intimidated congressional and other political sycophants will immediately jump to his defense, ignoring or deflecting any criticisms of his performance, while finding excuses for any debate blunders, echoing the mantra, “That’s just Trump being Trump.”

Biden needs to push Trump to provide specifics on his vision for America, what era his Make America Great Again slogan refers to, and his detailed plans to improve the current robust economy, reform immigration — after strong-arming congressional Republicans to kill a bipartisan immigration bill — settle the wars in the Ukraine and Gaza and commitments to NATO.

Where social issues are concerned, Biden should challenge Trump to explain and justify his stances on climate change, abortion services, gay and interracial marriage, contraception, weakening America’s founding principles of the separation of church and state, protecting Obamacare, which he tried to eliminate, and observing strict adherence to the U.S. Constitution.

The former president will have to decide on appealing to his conservative and evangelical base or swing-state independents who overwhelmingly support protecting those rights.

If Biden’s debate performance is less than near-perfect, he and the Democratic Party must quickly and realistically evaluate his reelection prospects and whether the frightening specter of a second Trump presidency is enough to convince him to step aside.

Were that to happen, Democrats would have just seven weeks to select and coalesce around a new candidate, one with popular electoral appeal and no personal or political skeletons Republicans could easily uncover and exploit.

Uncomfortably, Biden’s heir-apparent, Kamala Harris, is even less popular than her boss and not selecting her could create new intra-party schisms. However, as with the president, she and her supporters would face a gut-wrenching decision as to whether personal considerations or defeating Trump is of paramount importance.

Fortunately, there are several bright, knowledgeable and articulate candidates in the wings, including a new generation of younger Democratic governors with impressive skills and electoral expertise.

There is an old adage that your get only one opportunity to make a good impression. This is Joe Biden’s one and final chance.

Dick Newbert lives in Langhorne.

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