Is Joe Biden about to quit the 2024 presidential race?

President Joe Biden’s disastrous June 27 debate with former president Donald Trump reignited grave concerns about his age and sparked panic among Democrats. Calls for him to drop out of the White House race swiftly followed.

Some lawmakers in Biden’s own party are anxious for him to be replaced. Donors are hunting for alternative candidates. Biden’s awkward interview with ABC News on Friday failed to reassure his critics.

Ten days after the debate — and only months before the November election — these are the key questions.

Why was the debate so bad for Biden?

Biden’s biggest weakness in his bid for re-election is his age. He would be 86 at the end of a second term, and although the White House and other allies have dismissed the concerns, voters have not. The worries were exacerbated by a special prosecutor’s report from earlier this year that described the president as an “elderly man with a poor memory”. Trump’s campaign has been ruthless in exploiting Biden’s weakness.

Within 15 minutes of the start of the debate, Biden gave Trump more devastating ammunition.

The 81-year-old repeatedly forgot his lines, lost his train of thought, confused his policies and looked dazed and slack-jawed as Trump rattled off unsubstantiated claims, unchallenged. Given an opportunity to hit Trump on abortion and reproductive rights — a central plank of the president’s campaign — Biden veered instead into immigration, rape and incest.

One poll after the debate found two-thirds of voters thought Biden should be replaced before November. Others since then have shown a sharp drop in support for Biden. Trump now leads in all battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — according to political statistics service FiveThirtyEight’s averages.

What has happened since the debate and what comes next?

The White House has tried to blame the president’s performance on a “cold” and exhaustion. Big Democratic names, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, affirmed their support for Biden. Several governors also backed the president after a crisis meeting on Wednesday.

The Biden camp also claimed a record fundraising streak in the four days after the debate. The president has appeared more competent in scripted speeches in North Carolina and Wisconsin — though his interview with ABC News on Friday was uncomfortable.

But events with teleprompters, or pre-recorded, are different. In private, Democratic lawmakers, operatives, and big donors have been scathing about his fitness to carry on — and adamant that he must quit immediately to give the party a chance of defeating Trump.

US media outlets that were reluctant to cover Biden’s frailty have also published devastating portraits since the debate of the president’s decline.

Some lawmakers in Biden’s own party have gone public with demands for him to quit. On Friday, the Washington Post reported that Democratic Senator Mark Warner was assembling other senators to join the calls. On Saturday, Angie Craig, a House member from the swing state of Minnesota, added her name to the list.

Now supporters want him to prove his acuity without the teleprompters he often relies on.

But every unscripted moment will be scrutinised like never before — starting with next week’s Nato summit in Washington.

Trump and his campaign will be poised to pounce, making sure the next sign of Biden’s age goes viral — and does as much damage — as the clips from last week’s disastrous debate.

Can he be removed against his will?

Not easily. Some donors still hope a leading Democrat like Barack Obama or Bill Clinton could persuade Biden to drop out. But that appears unlikely, even though several former Obama administration officials have been vociferous on social media in saying Biden must go.

People with knowledge of the situation say senior party leaders want Biden to come to the decision himself — but that it will be a matter for his inner circle and close family. Some accuse him of egotism for not considering a withdrawal.

Asked by ABC News anchor George Stephanopolous how he would feel in January if Trump had won the election, he said: “I’ll feel, as long as I gave it my all, and I did as good a job as I know I can do, that’s what this is about.”

Biden is now taking advice from his son Hunter — recently convicted of a federal firearm felony — who has reportedly urged his father to stay in the race. The view of Biden’s sister is also important.

But most significant is Jill Biden, the president’s wife. She has been adamant that he should keep fighting — to the point of angering party operatives and donors, earning her the sobriquet “Lady Macbiden”. She told Vogue magazine this week: “We will decide our future.”

Donors want him to quit, but do they matter?

“The lifeblood to a campaign is money,” said Ari Emanuel, the Hollywood “superagent” and a top Democratic donor, earlier this week.

In his victorious 2020 presidential campaign Biden raised over $1bn compared to Trump’s $811mn. The vast majority of that cash came from big donors. 

Some of the party’s biggest donors have suspended their support until an alternative candidate replaces Biden. Netflix’s Reed Hastings, Abigail Disney and crypto billionaire Mike Novogratz have all called on Biden to drop out.

That has left LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, two of Biden’s top fundraisers, to make frantic calls to their friends to keep cash flowing. 

So far Biden’s campaign is holding on, thanks partly to the $264mn raised in the second quarter. If he dropped out, it would be relatively easy to transfer that cash to vice-president Kamala Harris, say legal experts. 

“She would maintain access to all the funds” because she and Biden are on the same ticket, said Trevor Potter, president at Campaign Legal Center.

Handing over those funds to a different Democratic nominee would be possible but trickier, probably involving a refund to donors or the transfer of the money into another political action committee entitled to support a new candidate.

Who could replace him — and how?

Some Democrats fear Biden’s withdrawal would trigger a civil war within a party that includes progressive and moderate wings, blue-collar voters and Wall Street donors, and is riven by racial and class politics.

Biden could try to avoid this by endorsing Harris. But donors prefer Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro — both popular leaders in swing states — and Gavin Newsom of California, who has been building his national profile in recent months.

Harris has a standing advantage: she already has national name recognition and easier access to Biden’s campaign money. She would also have the backing of influential Democrats like James Clyburn, who helped deliver Black voters for Biden in 2020.

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