48 hours to fix a 90-minute mess: Inside Biden camp’s post-debate frenzy | World News

48 hours to fix a 90-minute mess: Inside Biden camp’s post-debate frenzy | World News

48 hours to fix a 90-minute mess: Inside Biden camp’s post-debate frenzy | World News

US President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, and granddaughters travel to a campaign reception in New Jersey. (Photo: Reuters)

By Lisa Lerer, Shane Goldmacher & Katie Rogers

In the wee hours of Friday morning, not long after President Biden had walked off the stage from a disastrous debate, his campaign chair, Jen O’Malley Dillon, acknowledged in a series of private calls with prominent supporters that the night had gone poorly but urged them not to overreact.


Later on Friday, top White House aides worked the phones, with Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, Jeff Zients, calling the Democratic leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer, to check in, according to a person familiar with the call. And by the afternoon, the Biden campaign had transformed its weekly all-staff call into a virtual pep talk to dispel any doubts creeping into the campaign offices in Wilmington, Del., and beyond.


“Nothing fundamentally changed about this election last night,” said Quentin Fulks, Mr. Biden’s deputy campaign manager, according to a recording of the all-staff meeting. “We’re going to get punched. We’re going to punch back. We’re going to get up when we get punched.”

The 48 hours after the debate were a frenzied campaign within a campaign to save Mr. Biden’s suddenly teetering candidacy, a multiday damage-control effort to pressure and plead with anxious Democratic.


For now, the divide between the party’s most active supporters and its voters, who for more than a year have voiced concerns about the 81-year-old president’s fitness for another term, remains as large as ever. Some Democrats are bracing for a drop in polling after his shaky debate performance that could, they say, reignite calls to replace Mr. Biden.

The all-hands efforts, from Wilmington to Washington, showed the depths of the damage Mr. Biden did to his re-election campaign in a mere 90 minutes. His campaign has been criticized as insular and insistent, so the burst of activity signaled that the debate fallout had turned into a real crisis that spun those in his orbit into a frantic battle mode.

Former President Barack Obama came off the sidelines to offer words of encouragement. Mr. Biden made a mea culpa of sorts on the stump in North Carolina at a proof-of-life rally. And prominent surrogates, including those on many wish lists of replacements, made the case for Mr. Biden on cable news. Some of the most intense advocacy unfolded behind closed doors, at private fund-raisers and in a flurry of late-night and early-morning conversations.

By Saturday, their efforts appeared to have successfully slowed the tide of prominent Democrats calling for Mr. Biden to step aside. The president, for his part, grabbed microphones at campaign events, telling supporters and deep-pocketed donors that he knew he had flubbed the debate. And he repeatedly tried to flip the focus back onto Donald J. Trump’s performance.

“I didn’t have a great night,” Mr. Biden told a group of donors in East Hampton on Saturday. “But neither did he.”

©2024 The New YorkTimes News Service

First Published: Jul 01 2024 | 12:57 AM IST

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