Can Biden get the whole Democratic family on board tonight?

Joe Biden greets supporters ahead of a presidential debate, in Atlanta (REUTERS)
Joe Biden greets supporters ahead of a presidential debate, in Atlanta (REUTERS)

So it begins. President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump have descended upon Atlanta for the first presidential debate.

So far, Trump’s supporters have spread the idea that the 81-year-old president will be hopped up on drugs. Indeed, the former president parroted these lines, saying that his opponent will be “jacked up” on drugs and will get “a shot in the a**.”

Republicans on the Hill are also sticking to the line.

“I think that while Biden has been hanging out in the basement hiding off so he can prepare for this debate and look at all the medical enhancements that he can to try and keep him awake during this, I think that you've seen what President Trump's been doing,” Representative Cory Mills of Florida told The Independent.

There is no evidence Biden is getting a prescription for uppers ahead of the debate. In truth, the debate is the shot in the arm that Biden needs to fix his flailing campaign. It’s why Biden decided to eschew the typical presidential debate schedule organized by the Commission on Presidential Debates and took the fight directly to Trump by challenging him earlier than the normal fall schedule.

Biden--like Ronald Reagan before him--faces questions about whether his age will impede his ability to do the job. A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday showed Biden down against Trump 49 to 45 percent.

His allies in Congress have different pieces of advice. Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi told The Independent on Wednesday that Biden needed to “be himself,” advice repeated by fellow Delawarean Lisa Blunt Rochester, who is running for Senate in Biden’s home state.

But Biden’s biggest weakness at the moment is with young voters, an essential voting bloc in the Democratic Party.

The Quinnipiac survey showed only 21 percent of voters between 18 to 34 have a favorable opinion of the president, compared to 39 percent who have a favorable opinion of Trump. He also holds only a two-point lead against Trump with that group.

Biden has to also get the whole of the Democratic coalition on board with him. Many more progressive members of Congress have been disappointed with his support for Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

But contrary to popular belief, Gaza has not registered as a defining concern. Rather, the economy, inflation, and housing all take precedent according to surveys of young voters. And it seems like even his sharpest critics of foreign policy have gotten onboard to defend him.

That might be why Illinois Representative Delia Ramirez, a member of the Squad, emphasized housing.

“I think that also been said that he's fighting out for them and he's willing to fight like how to make sure that young voters are able to buy a house if that's what they want,” Ramirez told The Independent.

Ramirez has criticized Biden’s executive order cracking down on immigration at the US-Mexico border and restricting asylum while also praising his action offering a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants married to citizens like her husband Boris. It’s a sign he’s been able to get everyone on board so far.

“I think that the President needs to be able to say here's what I'm going to do to make sure that millennials and Gen Z and young people are able to do and be equally as much as their parents are even more,” she said, specifically citing his actions on student debt.

Representative Maxwell Frost of Florida, the youngest member of Congress whom Biden has taken a liking too, cited Biden’s legislation combating gun violence and combating climate change.

“But you know, that's about what people got their last vote and then I think it's gonna be important for him to say how we build off of it,” he told The Independent.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said “I think we should be asking what Trump needs to do to have...half a chance,” to come across as “remotely cogent.”

Despite the fact Biden is in many ways a relic of the old Democratic Party. But he’s somehow managed to keep the disparate Democratic coalition together. The question is if he can do it one last time in November and if it will be enough.