All the Gossip on the Biden Family’s Postdebate Blame Game


Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Democrats have been in full panic mode since Joe Biden’s disastrous debate performance against Donald Trump with pundits, donors, and average voters questioning whether the president should be replaced at the top of the 2024 ticket. But it seems one crucial constituency is not engaging in the national conversation about whether Joe should drop out: the Biden family.

As President Biden huddled with his wife, children, and grandchildren on a preplanned trip to Camp David over the weekend, multiple outlets published dishy behind-the-scenes reports on how the family members think he should proceed. One thing is clear: They want him to stay in the race. But there was some conflicting gossip about who the Bidens blame for Joe’s bad performance and what they plan to do about it (which is pretty remarkable, as this may be the least leak-prone White House in recent memory). Here, a roundup of what we’ve learned.

You might assume that the president called a family meeting to help him decide whether he should heed calls for him to drop out of the race. But the family had already planned to gather at Camp David this past weekend to participate in a photo shoot with celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz. And multiple reports emphasized that this was not a formal family meeting and the Bidens weren’t actively debating whether the president should drop out. As the New York Times reported:

One of the people informed about the situation said “the entire family is united” and added flatly that the president was not getting out of the race and had not discussed doing so. “You get up and keep fighting,” the person said.

Two sources told the paper that if Biden was thinking about quitting, he wouldn’t have that discussion at Camp David, “where too many people outside the family might overhear.”

First Lady Jill Biden is the driving force behind the president’s decision to continue his reelection campaign, according to a “person familiar with the dynamics.”

“The only person who has ultimate influence with him is the First Lady,” the source told NBC News. “If she decides there should be a change of course, there will be a change of course.”

During a postdebate stop at Waffle House on Thursday night, Joe Biden told reporters, “I think we did well.” But as the president and First Lady appeared at various rallies and fundraisers over the weekend, the spin evolved. Yes, Joe had a bad night — but it was no more than that. Jill articulated this message at a fundraiser on Friday.

“After last night’s debate, he said, ‘You know, Jill, I don’t know what happened. I didn’t feel that great,’” she said. “And I said, ‘Look, Joe, we are not going to let 90 minutes define the four years that you’ve been president.’”

Jill Biden reiterated this — and declared that her husband will “continue to fight” — in an editor’s note attached to the top of her Vogue profile, which was published on Monday morning:

Editor’s Note: The debate on June 27 spurred a discussion about whether President Joe Biden should remain the Democratic nominee. Dr. Jill Biden, the first lady and Vogue’s August cover subject, has fiercely defended her husband and stood by him. Reached by phone on June 30 at Camp David, where the Biden family had gathered for the weekend, she told Vogue that they “will not let those 90 minutes define the four years he’s been president. We will continue to fight.” President Biden, she added, “will always do what’s best for the country.” Whatever happens in the weeks and months between now and November, it is Dr. Biden who will remain the president’s closest confidant and advocate.

Jill Biden has always been one of her husband’s fiercest defenders, so he should probably be seeking advice from more objective sources, too. But instead, the other main voice in his ear right now is his son Hunter, who we can all agree has not made the best life choices. Per the Times:

One of the strongest voices imploring Mr. Biden to resist pressure to drop out was his son Hunter Biden, whom the president has long leaned on for advice, said one of the people informed about the discussions, who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to share internal deliberations. Hunter Biden wants Americans to see the version of his father that he knows — scrappy and in command of the facts — rather than the stumbling, aging president Americans saw on Thursday night.

The younger Bidens’ big idea is exactly what you’d expect from well-meaning grandkids with no political experience. Per the Times:

Other family members were trying to figure out how they could be helpful. At least one of the president’s grandchildren has expressed interest in getting more involved with the campaign, perhaps by talking with influencers on social media, according to the informed person.

Members of the Biden family privately “trashed his top campaign advisers” over the weekend and even urged the president to “fire or demote people in his political high command,” according to Politico. Complaints reportedly range from Biden being poorly prepared to overly prepared:

Among the family’s complaints about the debate practice: that Biden was not prepared to pivot more to go on the attack; that he was bogged down too much on defending his record rather than outlining a vision for a second term; and that he was over-worked and not well-rested.

The blame was cast widely on staffers, including: Anita Dunn, the senior adviser who frequently has the president’s ear; her husband, Bob Bauer, the president’s attorney who played Trump in rehearsals at Camp David; and Ron Klain, the former chief of staff who ran point on the debate prep and previous cycles’ sessions.

But a senior Biden aide said it is “not true,” and other sources said there is no expectation that anyone will actually be fired. And Axios reported that Biden personally assured Ron Klain that no one blames his top staffers:

But the president smoothed it over: He called former chief of staff Ron Klain, who led the team, and one of the things they talked about was that neither he nor the family blames the prep.

Eight anonymous people “involved in or briefed on the president’s debate preparation” hit back at efforts to blame the Biden team, telling the Washington Post that he was adequately prepared and they were as shocked as anyone by his terrible night:

So aides were bewildered by his performance. Many felt they had never seen him collapse so dramatically. After all, Biden was a veteran of numerous debates — as a senator, vice-presidential nominee and presidential candidate. And they did not understand why he gave an entirely different answer on the age question than the one they spent more than a week perfecting.

Mid-debate, Biden officials started telling reporters that the president had a cold in an attempt to play down his raspy voice. When Biden’s raspiness disappeared the following day, they looked around for something else to blame and settled on the debate host, CNN. According to Politico, they criticized the network for everything from the lack of live fact-checking to Biden’s pale makeup:

… Biden’s campaign staff only grew angrier at CNN as to how the debate was run, according to several people familiar with the conversations. Their complaints were lengthy, including that the moderators should have fact-checked Trump more often, that Biden was not told which camera he’d be on when not speaking and that the makeup staff made him appear too pale, according to the three people. Biden did, however, agree to the terms of the debate before it was held.

Jen O’Malley Dillon, the president’s top campaign strategist, said that if there’s a dip in the president’s polling, pundits will be to blame. Per the Times:

By Saturday evening, Ms. O’Malley Dillon wrote a memo accusing “the beltway class” of counting out Mr. Biden prematurely. “If we do see changes in polling in the coming weeks, it will not be the first time that overblown media narratives have driven temporary dips in the polls,” she wrote.

As Bloomberg reported, another top Biden campaign staffer blamed the Pod Save America guys specifically:

In another memo, deputy campaign manager Rob Flaherty argued that even if the president’s polls did decline, it was merely a temporary reflection of “reactionary” coverage by the chattering class.

Flaherty went on to swipe at “self-important” podcasters — a clear reference to the popular “Pod Save America” show, hosted by former Obama administration officials who expressed alarm in the aftermath of the debate.

“Breaking news: People think Joe Biden’s old. They did coming into the debate, they do coming out of the debate,” he wrote.

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