APTOPIX Election 2024 Debate

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden, right, speak simultaneously during a presidential debate hosted by CNN Thursday in Atlanta. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

I emailed my editor earlier this week to request a late submission for my column. I wanted to cover the presidential debate, even if it meant writing through the night. It felt important. He agreed. But by Thursday night, I felt like I had been hit in the stomach. What had I done?

For those who didn’t tune in, I can understand your reluctance. Political debates have become a slugfest, with candidates more interested in interrupting and dominating the stage to reveal their rehearsed soundbites and zingers. But Thursday’s debate offered a new format with limited response times and muted microphones. I had hopes that Americans would finally get to see a display of policies and ideas.

I did extensive legwork before the debate, from reading about debate prep, to exploring possible angles, to watching the first televised debate in 1956 featuring Maine’s own Sen. Margaret Chase-Smith and Eleanor Roosevelt as surrogates for Eisenhower and Stevenson.

None of this mattered.

When President Biden began speaking, I was ready to take careful notes. However, I soon found myself writing: “OMG. He is so old. Rambling. The two-minute time constraint is too much. He is incoherent. This is painful.”

I watched a bit longer in shock. My family asked me what I was going to do. Someone suggested I consider using a “backup column” I have tucked away. How could I write my honest opinion? I think I said, “How could I not?” My 18-year-old agreed.

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So, yes, it was painful to watch. And honestly, writing this is painful for me. I’ve sat awake almost the entire night avoiding writing precisely because it’s so painful. President Biden is a good man, and at times he was the only one to offer detailed facts and policies in response to questions. Unfortunately, there were times when he strayed off course, seemed confused, and was downright incoherent. When he trailed off, paused, and then said something about “beating Medicare,” I stopped thinking about policy and shifted to questioning his mental competency and what things are like behind the scenes in the White House.

And I wasn’t the only one thinking this, though Vice President Harris tried to spin it by saying Biden was just off to a “slow start.” Fine, she might have to spin it. I don’t. I won’t. Anyone who watched the debate knew it was more than a slow start. As soon as the debate was over, analysts and reporters were debating what everyone was afraid to say out loud — that maybe Biden shouldn’t be the nominee. It was astounding. How could there be any doubt?

We know that Trump isn’t fit for office, but his ardent supporters don’t. They’re blinded by their loyalty. He was incompetent and ineffective as a president. He is a convicted criminal. Convicted of crimes that would prevent most people from hiring him, let alone placing him in charge of a country. On Thursday, Trump stood on the stage and once again lied. He said things like water was clean under his administration, that he lowered the price of insulin, that immigrants are taking “Black jobs,” and that his opponents support abortion “after birth.” The moderators’ failure to fact-check during the debate and hold the candidates accountable only serves to keep the MAGA loyalists blind. And it very well may contribute to Trump’s win in November.

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom displayed a similar level of blind fidelity as he spoke to reporters after the debate. He said he’d “never turn his back on President Biden.” Choosing a president shouldn’t be an issue of loyalty to a person or a political party. It should be about choosing someone we think is truthful and competent to lead us. Americans watched the debate on Thursday and concluded that President Biden was not up to the task. People around the world watched the debate and saw that Biden is not up to the task.

And for a while last night, I panicked. Do we really all just head to the polls in November, pinch our noses, and vote for the lesser of the two? No. That’s not acceptable.

As I sit here racing to finish this column, with the sun shining and the birds chirping, calls for Biden to save his legacy have already been published. Meanwhile, morning shows are featuring some surrogates insisting Biden will be the nominee.

But this is simple, folks. This isn’t about Trump or Biden. This is about America and We the People. This is our chance “to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.” Are we willing to do what it takes to make it happen?

The stakes could not be higher. If we love this country, we must be willing to correct course. Biden must either step aside or the Democrats must replace him.

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