GOP Insiders Are Ecstatic About the Trump-Biden Debate

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

Republican operatives were hard pressed to imagine how Thursday’s debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump could have gone better for them. Maybe Biden could have started calling Jake Tapper “Jeremy,” or perhaps the nation’s cell phones could have started buzzing mid-debate with a Silver Alert for the incumbent president. They were equal degrees jubilant and appalled by the president stumbling and bumbling through questions with a raspy voice and halting answers.

One Trumpworld operative’s initial thoughts on the debate was simply “LOL,” adding “this was worse than John Fetterman’s infamous post-stroke debate in 2022.” Another senior Capitol Hill Republican aide was just left worried about Joe Biden’s mortality. “There’s no way coming away from tonight’s debate thinking anything other than the fact that Joe Biden could be president for the next four years. Stripping through all politics and all partisanship, no way he could survive.”

There was also absolute befuddlement that the Biden campaign let him  appear on stage in the first place.  Democrats “should be ashamed. This guy has no business being president,” as one senior Republican aide put it. For a Beltway Republican, Biden fell below even the low standards set for him. “The bar was so low and he still ran through the floor,” they said.

On the other hand, they were also impressed with Trump’s performance. No one thought that he was a model of oratory and rhetoric, just that he was much improved by the standards of the past. “Trump was disciplined beyond what I could have expected for the first 45 minutes or so,” said one plugged in Republican politico, though they conceded that Trump trailed off in the second half of the debate but, at that point, the damage to Biden was done.

There was plenty of criticism for Biden on substance too. For a veteran Republican operative, Biden was simply defending an unpopular agenda. The consultant argued that Biden had got elected pledging “to spend like a drunken sailor and open up the border.” Now, the two top two issues that voters were upset about were the economy and inflation as well immigration. The consultant added that voters “hate Biden’s agenda, hate his policies, think he sucks at being president not just because he can’t function but because he does things that are unpopular.”

For Republicans, the question wasn’t so much whether Biden should be removed from the ticket, but whether they would benefit from it, given the universal verdict that it would mean a Kamala Harris replacement. “I don’t think anyone believes it could be worse,” one consultant said. As the senior Capitol Hill Republican aide said, “our dilapidated president can’t step aside because the country knows his vice president is incompetent.” A social conservative activist actually fretted that “this debate was a mistake for Trump. Should have waited to debate until after their convention and after ballots dropped. Now they will replace Biden in time.”

The veteran Republican operative argued “there is no mechanism to get rid of [Biden] and even if they succeed they can’t get past Kamala Harris. A bunch of gentry liberals shitting their pants tonight, but there is only one person they can replace him with and it is Kamala Harris, who is even more unpopular and less capable of marshaling the good will of American voters.” The operative added that if “white college educated Democrats think they can pass over the first Black vice president for Gretchen Whitmer or Gavin Newsom… a Nixon style landslide.”

It is hard to see a landslide in the 21st century. In such a tightly polarized country, elections are always close, no matter how crazy things get. But at least tonight, Republicans are feeling a lot more confident about November than they were before.

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