Ten Observations About Where we go After the Debate


  1. Team Biden’s hope and prayer is that, when they fill out their ballots, enough swing voters and soft-core Trump supporters will look into the abyss of his derangement and his contempt for truth and decency and mark the box for Biden. But Trump’s malignity was evident even before 2016 to those who were paying attention. I fear the opposite will happen: After four more months of decline, with Biden looking and sounding even feebler, how many voters will balk at trusting him to face off against Putin, Xi, Netanyahu, etc. for four more years? How many will feel too burned, too fed up with his monumental solipsism, and will log a protest vote or just opt out?
  2. It’s a Catch-22. The only way Biden can prove he’s (maybe) up to the job is to give up the job. Otherwise he squanders his precious legacy, endangers our much more precious republic, and sells out the future for the sake of the past—specifically 2016, when he could have beaten Trump but let Barack Obama dissuade him from running.
  3. Is Jill Biden, eight years younger and visibly spryer, not just enabling Joe but pushing him into persisting? Does she fancy herself another Edith Wilson, leading the country under cover of her incapacitated husband? That precedent’s not promising. Edith Wilson’s tenure as Woodrow’s “steward” in 1919-21 didn’t work out so well. However ably “Madame President” ran the White House, she couldn’t rally public opinion from the shadows. The Senate rejected the League of Nations, Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan resurged, three Republican administrations followed, and their policies helped bring on the Great Depression. A shadow presidency would be even harder to sustain in today’s media glare.
  4. About the pass Trump mostly got from CNN re. January 6, and the absolution Judge Cannon and the Supremes are in the process of granting him and his mob—what’s the big deal? The United States would hardly be the first country to elect a former coup leader. Venezuela did, with Chavez, and Germany did with Hitler.
  5. Trump’s lies and delusions (who can tell?), more brazen and profuse than ever, are a variation on the swarm strategy prey animals use to evade predators. A lion can run down one zebra but gets confused and distracted by a thousand zebras running every which way. Fact checking fails against the spew.
  6. Maybe that’s why some local debate-watchers missed the news that Trump saved Seattle during the 2020 protests: After claiming that “if I didn’t bring in the National Guard”—which he didn’t and by law couldn’t do—Minneapolis “would have been destroyed,” Trump proclaimed that “they [unnamed] took over big chunks of Seattle. I was all set to bring in the National Guard. They heard that, they saw them coming and they left immediately.” Now you know.
  7. Read the debate transcript and Trump rambles, repeats himself, babbles nonsequiturs, and loses the thread even more often than Biden does. But listen on screen and he does it all with his usual headlong, brash confidence. Modern debates, and the punditry that fixes them in the record, are about delivery, not details. It’s the singer, not the song.
  8. If Biden pulls out, qualms about age and decrepitude immediately turn, like Elmer Fudd’s shotgun, back onto Trump. He’s not aging well either. Opposite anyone except ol’ Joe—certainly any of the in-their-prime Democratic governors and senators getting bruited as replacements—Trump will look like a flesh-and-blood version of Dorian Gray’s decayed portrait. Any of them might seize the many juicy openings Trump offered and Biden either missed or nailed in a voice too faltering to stick.
  9. Best of all, though maybe wishful and certainly based on the thinnest evidence, the two names that seem ascendant in the speculative swarm are the Ws, Gretchen Whitmer and Raphael Warnock. Both are smart and eloquent in different ways). Both combine seriousness about policy with a sense of humor and human touch. Both can speak convincingly and, it seems, sincerely across class and ideological lines. Both are fresh faces with national name recognition. Both are from key swing states. Warnock helped turn Georgia purple, and Whitmer helped turn Michigan state government deep blue.
  10. Trump would struggle to find a target. He can’t bash Michigan and Georgia as “horrible” the way he would California if he faced Gavin Newsom; he needs to win them. He can’t pin his funhouse picture of Biden’s “failures” on Whitmer and Warnock; they don’t bear the baggage that administration veterans Pete Buttigieg, Gina Raimondo and, especially, Kamala Harris carry. Unlike all the Dems’ 21st century losers (Gore, Kerry, Hilary Clinton), they have the ineffable combination of authenticity and charisma that Molly Ivins called “Elvis.”

Whitmer-Warnock or Warnock-Whitmer would be a geographic and demographic dream team. Together they could counter much of the working class and flyover-country disaffection with Biden and the party, and sooth any hurt feelings over dumping the first female, Black, and Asian-American vice president. But even the unloved ex-prosecutor Harris would eviscerate Trump on the debate stage. Wherever an opened-up nomination goes, it’s a debate I’d love to see. And one we all deserve.

Eric Scigliano
Eric Scigliano
Eric Scigliano has written on varied environmental, cultural and political subjects for many local and national publications. His books include Puget Sound: Sea Between the Mountains, Love War and Circuses (Seeing the Elephant), Michelangelo’s Mountain, Flotsametrics and the Floating World (with Curtis Ebbesmeyer), The Wild Edge, and, newly published, The Big Thaw: Ancient Carbon and a Race to Save the Planet.


  1. Excellent debate review and pointing to a possible future for the Ds in November. I would add that V.P. Kamala Harris could make it happen.

  2. Keep in mind that the staffers who are advising Biden on a post-debate decision have a conflict of interest. They, like Biden, want to keep their jobs. Too often these decisions to seek another term are driven by staffers who have grown to like the power and perks of office.

  3. Biden’s whole debate prep
    team should be fired. They either failed to anticipate, or failed to prepare him sufficiently, for Trump’s Gish gallop. There was nothing really surprising about seeing Trump resort to that tried-and-true debate strategy. He’s been drilling for it at his rallies for years.

  4. Eric: I applaud your Top 10 piece. I completely concur.

    I note today that most of the D’s are either remaining silent or saying things like Sen. Warnock “Biden should definitely stay in.” I think that’s public nonsense and hope to heck there are behind the scenes conversations going on today at Camp David
    with Joe, Jill and their best advisors.

    I like what David Ignatius from the Washington Post said yesterday: “Biden’s closest counselors — political adviser Mike Donilon, former chief of staff Ron Klain, the first lady — have an obligation to be honest with him now. If he has the strength and wisdom to step aside, the Democrats will have two months to choose another candidate. It will be a wide-open and noisy race, but that will be invigorating for the country. It’s never too late to do the right thing.”


    I can’t remember feeling so ill as I did watching Biden Thursday night. There is no coming back from that. It wasn’t just one bad debate; it showed millions of people around the world that without teleprompters and without an early night to bed– like you said– Biden is feeble.

    – Sally Bagshaw

    • Did you feel ill viewing the Supreme Court’s decision giving Trump immunity?
      Did you feel ill hearing Trump’s “black and hispanic” racist comments during the debate?
      Did you feel ill when Trump became a convicted felon?
      Did you feel ill when Trump was accused, and a jury agreed, that he sexually assaulted, or raped, E. Jean Carroll?
      Did you feel ill when Trump announced today that Liz Cheney could face a military tribunal…for what?

      Because all of the others calling Joe Biden unfit are surprisingly silent about Donald Trump. Who was worse…Trump or Biden? I don’t know how anyone can honestly say that Biden was worse than Trump who basically lied through the whole debate.

      When I count the howls of outrage against Biden vs. howls about Trump, there is no comparison. All of the pundits calling for Biden to drop out are surprisingly sanguine about Trump.

      But never mind … the media pundits have made up their minds that they want to see Donald Trump vs. … anybody but Biden.

      Once, I would have disagreed when observers said the press had a strong interest in keeping Trump in office, and returning him there. Why the silence about Trump? Unless, you actually believe that he is fit to be president again?

      – Trish Saunders

      • Sickening indeed, of course. I would unhesitatingly vote for Joe Biden in a coma over DJ Trump on a wakeboard. But I’d rather vote for an opponent who can beat Trump. And fairly or unfairly, Biden’s prospects, already bad, are crashing.
        Yes, the news-entertainment media have abetted Trump’s rise, long before NBC made him a star with The Apprentice. It’s all about the entertainment value–loathe him, love his ratings.
        That’s one more reason to open up the nomination. An open convention would be the greatest show on Earth*, eclipsing the tease game Trump has been playing over a VP pick. He really would have to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue to get any attention.
        Yes, there are risks, but better a risky strategy than a doomed one.
        Re. your earlier comment, Trish–I don’t want to suggest Jill Biden is scheming to become a “shadow puppeteer,” just that she may think she can keep the ship going if he becomes incapacitated. I could have worded that better.
        * Less importantly, an open convention would also take wind from the sails of any demonstrators aiming to disrupt it (in Chicago!), and send a lot of “Genocide Joe” banners to the dumpster.

  5. I’m sorry, I must speak plainly. It has been a long while since I’ve read anything as cynical as “…too often these decisions… are driven by staffers who have grown to like the power and perks of office.” Try telling that to many staffers on the Hill, and I was one, who are terribly overworked and underpaid, who would be only too happy to leave for higher paying work with far less stress.

    I’m also surprised at the suggestion, with nothing whatever to back it up, that Jill Biden may have designs on becoming a shadow puppeteer, a la Edith Wilson, of a century ago, a vastly different age.

    I attribute much of the handwringing over Joe Biden’s performance as ageism. He may mix up his terms occasionally; everybody does that. I saw nothing to suggest senility, whatsoever.

    Pundits keep talking about mixing up the Paris Peace Accord with the Paris Agreement. He knows the difference, for god’s sake…the first was signed in 1973, and the latter in 2015. Putin corrected himself immediately. But that wasn’t good enough: the claim keeps getting repeated, ad nauseam, that he doesn’t know what year it is. Ageism, pure and simple.
    Did no one else notice that Biden wasn’t properly mic’d? I don’t think turning up the volume on his microphone would violate the terms of the debate…of course, Trump paid no attention to the ground rules. Where is the widespread condemnation over Biden’s refusal to answer moderators’ questions?

  6. Yes, I deliberately wrote Putin “corrected himself immediately.” Mixing up names that contain common sounds, then correcting them immediately, does not denote senility.
    Though decades younger than Biden, the same charge would probably be hurled a tme.

  7. Whitmer or Shapiro at the top of the ticket with Warnock would very likely win, whereas Biden or Harris at the top of ticket will likely lose.

    Governors like Whitmer and Shapiro are much less well known by voters nationally at this point, but there’s very good reason to believe they’d fare better than Biden with voters (and that was true even before Biden’s disastrous debate performance on Friday). Because they’re not known, head to head polling for those potential candidates is irrelevant and misleading. But when you test an unnamed “Democrat” vs. Trump, the generic Dem does about 8-10 points better than Biden does, and beats him comfortably. I saw a December state poll in Pennsylvania that tested their popular governor, Josh Shapiro, against Trump. Shapiro routed him by double digits in the must win state. Similarly, Gov. Whitmer’s approval ratings in Michigan, another must win state, are very strong, and there’s very little doubt she’d crush Trump there.

    There are really only three states that matter at this point if your goal is to beat Trump: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. If the Democratic nominee holds those three states (and important caveat, also wins the EV in NE’s 2nd congressional, as Biden did in ‘20), that nominee will (narrowly – that NE EV matters, because if Trump gets it the EC race ends in a tie throwing the election to the House, which would select Trump) win the Electoral College vote.
    The other swing states Biden won in 2020 – GA, AZ, NV – look to be out of play now, but luckily they’re icing on the cake if the Midwestern firewall holds. In pretty every other blue state, any Democrat at the top of the ticket would win (the one possible exception is VA, which is slightly shaky in recent polling but should stay blue).

    So given that very narrowed political map, candidates like Michigan Gov. Whitmer are teed up for success. She would, as a very popular governor there, win Michigan easily (right now Trump leads Biden there by 1.2 pct in the RCP average) and very likely would do the same in neighboring Wisconsin, where she’s also a known quantity (WI is currently a dead heat in the polling average). PA voters are similar demographically to Michigan voters – lots of non-college voters, disproportionately white – and there’s good reason to believe Whitmer’s appeal would translate.

    Shapiro is similar. He puts PA (where Trump currently leads by 2.8 points) way out of play, and likely would land well with MI and WI voters as they got to know him. Add Warnock to the ticket with either of them may or may not put GA back in play but would really help with the optics of bypassing Harris (on the down side, it could cost Dems a precious Senate seat). Plus (like Whitmer and Shapiro) Warnock is a tremendous political talent who would fare well in the white hot glare of the campaign.

  8. “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” — Will Rogers

    True now more than ever. Dems resemble a Keystone Cops scramble in a Mack Sennett movie of the silent era. What to do, what to do. Oh, woe. We must just sit here and dither while the Supreme Court not only paves the way for Trump to get off scot-free for trying to steal the 2020 election. Not only that, but defining a more powerful, accountability-free role for the presidency that now awaits him unless Democrats can get organized. What are the chances of that? I donno. Ask Will Rogers.

  9. Terrific piece, Eric. Yeah, point 3 is cynical, but the rest is right on.
    Of course staffers are affected by their nearness to power. Mostly it’s the appeal of power rather than fear of losing a job. It was intoxicating working for my Idaho Senator when he was running for prez in 1976. But it doesn’t excuse bad advice.

  10. It’s not just staffers, fellow commenters.. There is a lot of power and money riding on the invested political industrial complex. Biden has to reach beyond it for guidance, which is a lot to ask given his background.

    Good points, Eric, as usual. My dream team is still Newsom and Warnock. I know California is not our favorite origin story but he has already demonstrated he can take Trump’s head off in a debate and it solves the Harris problem.

  11. I would like to see Amy Klobuchar getting some attention.
    She was my first choice in the 2020 debates.

    In reality, we don’t vote for one person.
    We vote for an entire administration.
    This year the choices are Project 2025 or experienced civil servants running a government based on facts.

    Cut away all the embellishments and that is the skeletal bones decision for checking a box on the ballot.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.