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Democrats debate over Biden in stark contrast to GOP message discipline on Trump


(WASHINGTON) — After Joe Biden’s disastrous debate, Democrats worried about the president’s chances in November are mired in a debate of their own: shut up or shout louder.

Biden, whose decades-long career in Democratic politics has let him rack up chits across the party, has his fair share of defenders, both those who are personally allied with him and others who are worried about his chances but believe criticism of him is damaging to the party’s inevitable nominee.

But other Democrats argue his performance against former President Donald Trump was catastrophic enough that a messy conversation over his staying in the race is worth it if it means forcing him out and putting up a supposedly more electable candidate in November.

The infighting takes the “Democrats in disarray” cliché to a stratospheric level and lays bare a bitter and fundamental disagreement over what counts as messaging discipline, particularly as Republicans fall in line behind a 34-times convicted felon, twice-impeached former president in Donald Trump.

“I do not think that words can adequately describe the fury and frustration that literally every Democrat, whether a professional one or a rank-and-file voter, feels right now that Donald Trump and the Republicans, despite the lawlessness, the criminality and the radicalism, are pretty much escaping scot-free right now, while our dysfunction plays out in the limelight,” Democratic strategist Jon Reinish told ABC News

Congress’ return from recess on Monday amplified Democrats’ intraparty feud, setting off a flood of statements from lawmakers who could no longer avoid the question on the lips of virtually every reporter in Washington. Underscoring the tension surrounding the infighting, House Democrats huddled behind closed doors Tuesday, with cellphones left at the door — ostensibly to prevent real-time leaking to the salivating press corps.

Biden’s backers were vociferous in their defense of the president, pointing to his 2020 victory and subsequent accomplishments to hammer his critics.

“Joe Biden and [Vice President] Kamala Harris defeated Donald Trump in 2020 and they are the Democratic ticket that will do so again this year. Any ‘leader’ calling for President Biden to drop out needs to get their priorities straight and stop undermining this incredible actual leader who has delivered real results for our country,” said Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Other Democrats were less dismissive of Biden’s halting debate performance but said that the criticism could be damaging to the president in the scenario he ends up as the party nominee — effectively helping Trump in the process.

“The drip, drip, drip of public statements of no confidence only serve to weaken a President who has been weakened not only by the debate but also by the debate about the debate,” Rep. Ritchie Torres, N.Y., wrote in X. “Weakening a weakened nominee seems like a losing strategy for a presidential election. The piling-on is not so much solving a problem as much as it is creating and compounding one.”

Biden has forecasted a strategy to reingratiate himself with voters worried about his age (81 years old). An unpromoted appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday, after a Friday interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, indicated a more muscular media strategy is underway, while the president plans to ramp up his travel to swing states.

He is also taking a more aggressive stance toward even hypothetical critics, swatting away speculation that congressional leadership will join the growing chorus of voices calling for him to drop out of the presidential race.

“He basically called them punks on national TV,” said one informal adviser to Biden’s campaign.

The plan so far has done little to blunt the Democratic furor, with some party members viewing the interview with Stephanopoulos as further evidence that Biden should suspend his campaign. But some strategists said he at least bought himself time to get off the mat.

“They are executing on a plan, and I think the president deserves that folks take a beat, and let’s see. They’re trying to restore confidence. Let’s take a beat and let this plan play out,” Democratic strategist Karen Finney told ABC News last week.

Others are less forgiving.

“Biden set up a debate on his terms, on his home field, and he utterly and totally failed in the most spectacular failure in presidential debate history. He failed. Now, there’s no way he can win. So yeah, we’ve got to do this,” the informal adviser said of the push to get Biden to remove himself from the 2024 ticket.

Virtually every Democrat who said they wanted Biden off the ticket described the current situation as painful, pointing to Biden’s legislative achievements and a general admiration of his character.

But the prospect of a Trump victory looms large in the heads of some party members, overriding any goodwill there is for Biden in favor of supplanting him on November ballots.

“I feel like there’s an opportunity,” one source familiar with the Biden campaign’s strategy said of the talk of Biden’s replacement. “What is painful for some could be exciting for others. And I would just say, like I tell my kids, things have to get messy before they get clean.”

One Democratic pollster sneered at Biden’s defenders, saying talks about the president’s status as the party’s likely nominee were inevitable after the debate, especially with Democrats boasting a deep bench of rising stars.

“They didn’t watch the debate, or they’re in or they’re now in the cult,” the person said. “You can’t have watched that debate and seen a man in his early 80s who already is the oldest president to ever serve, and would be by far the oldest president ever reelected, and say that there aren’t serious concerns when there are alternatives. And that’s the other thing that makes it really, really obnoxious.”

The disagreement is particularly pronounced as Republicans walk in lockstep behind Trump, who is set to be coronated as his party’s nominee at the GOP convention next week.

Republican concerns over Trump’s leadership of the party have persisted since he launched his first campaign in 2015. Incidents like the infamous Access Hollywood tape, the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and a disappointing 2022 midterm cycle fueled speculation over if the party would move on, all to no avail. And now, dissent is scarce.

“I don’t know that it’s Teflon, per se, everybody sees the flaws and the warts. It’s the fact that there’s a large part of the party that is captivated by his message and his presumed ability to beat Joe Biden,” said GOP strategist Bob Heckman.

The dynamic marks a distillation of the two modern parties — one riven with disagreements over ideology and what counts as “electable,” and another remade in the image of its de facto leader, with policy debates largely papered over by Trump’s outsized sway and critics’ denouncements largely diminished to a grumble.

After the debate, that leaves Democrats as the party beset by endless infighting, leaving some lamenting the parties’ clashing strategies.

“Democrats want to be right, Republicans only care about winning, and that’s the difference between these two nominations right now,” one battleground Democratic strategist said. “Donald Trump’s convicted on 34 counts, not a single Republican has said, ‘he should not be our nominee.’ And because our guy’s too old, we have a complete freak out in the party that’s now going on its eighth or ninth day.”

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