Biden's performance at 1st presidential debate of 2024 election causes some Democrats to panic

The 81-year-old spent nearly a week preparing for Thursday night at Camp David.

Coming into the CNN Presidential Debate, one of the biggest voter concerns with President Biden was his age. At 81, Biden is the oldest president ever, and would be 86 by the end of a second term.

While the Biden camp sought to portray energy and vigor ahead of his debate with former President Donald Trump — huddling at Camp David for nearly a week of debate prep — Biden's hoarse voice and halting delivery during the historic contest spurred open concern throughout the Democratic Party regarding his ability to win reelection.

🗣️ Democratic angst

"It's kind of a DEFCON 1 moment," David Plouffe, the campaign manager for former President Barack Obama, said on MSNBC after the debate.

"It really pains me to say this. They are three years apart," Plouffe said of Biden and Trump, who is 78. "They seemed about 30 years apart tonight. And I think that's going to be the thing that voters really wrestle with coming out of this."

David Axelrod, another top Obama adviser and a CNN commentator, said on the cable channel shortly after the debate that he thought "there was a sense of shock, actually, of how he came out at the beginning of this debate, how his voice sounded. He seemed a little disoriented. He did get stronger as the debate went on. But by that time, I think the panic had set in."

Axelrod added, "And I think you're going to hear discussions that, I don't know will lead to anything, but there are going to be discussions about whether he should continue."

Kate Bedingfield, Biden's former White House communications director, said on CNN that it was "a really disappointing debate performance."

"His biggest issue that he had to prove to the American people was that he had the energy, that he had the stamina — and he didn't do that," she said.

🥊 Damage control

Many Democrats also defended Biden, especially on the substance of the issues he debated with Trump. Vice President Kamala Harris admitted that Biden initially had a "slow start" but pointed to the contrast he presented with Trump.

"Can you say that you are not concerned at all having watched the president's performance tonight?" CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked Harris shortly after the debate.

"It was a slow start. That's obvious to everyone. I'm not going to debate that point. I'm talking about the choice in November," Harris responded.

"I got that this is the afterplay for the debate, this conversation that I'm in, and I understand why everyone wants to talk about it," she continued, "but I think it's also important to recognize that the choice in November between these two people that were on the debate stage involves extraordinary stakes."

➕ Read more

  • How did Trump and Biden do in the debate? 3 takeaways from 2024's 1st big clash. "Biden struggled to show his age doesn't matter." [Yahoo News]

  • CNN moderators in Biden-Trump debate: It almost didn't matter that they were on stage. "Did the moderators play a role? ... Their problem was that, more times than not, the questions were ignored as the two candidates continued to squabble at their own pace." [Associated Press]

  • Swing state voters react to presidential debate, Biden's weak performance. "At a watch party organized by the Biden campaign, some voters were adamant that Biden had a strong debate performance, while others expressed reservations." [ABC News]

  • Who won the Biden-Trump debate? Biden's freeze draws age concerns. "The biggest moment of the night came early, when Biden froze for several seconds while answering a question about the economy." [USA Today]

  • Fact Focus: Here's a look at some of the false claims made during Biden and Trump's first debate. "President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump traded barbs and a variety of false and misleading information." [Associated Press]

  • After a devastating debate performance, Biden aides try to reassure panicky Democrats. "Biden aides stressed that whatever happened on the debate stage, the fundamentals of the race are unchanged." [NBC News]

  • Here's why it would be tough for Democrats to replace Joe Biden on the presidential ticket. "Every state has already held its presidential primary. Democratic rules mandate that the delegates Biden won remain bound to support him at the party's upcoming national convention unless he tells them he’s leaving the race." [Associated Press]

Cover thumbnail photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images