Biden spent the weekend rallying Democrats and retreating with family after poor debate performance

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden had the kind of weekend on which history pivots — trying to stabilize his campaign after a disastrous and demoralizing debate against former President Donald Trump, then gathering with family as previously planned at a secluded mountain retreat where they discussed the path forward.

The 81-year-old Democrat went into the Thursday night debate hoping to banish questions about his advanced age. But his meandering and at times incoherent answers only generated new fears that Democrats were stumbling toward a brutal loss in November’s election and led to talk that he should bow out of the race.

The weekend had a frantic urgency, with Biden promising donors he would simply be “fighting harder.” The Democratic National Committee hosted a call with party leaders that had such an upbeat tone that it left some supporters feeling gaslighted. Major media outlets such as The New York Times and The New Yorker publicly called for Biden to withdraw.

Biden’s cleanup effort

Biden and his team spent the weekend characterizing his debate performance as an outlier, arguing one bad night should not define him nor jeopardize the election.

After a Friday rally in North Carolina and a pair of LGBTQ+ events in New York City, Biden spent part of Saturday in the posh and hedge-rowed vacation town of East Hampton on Long Island for a campaign meeting and fundraiser.

Biden acknowledged that he didn’t have a “great night” at the debate, but he claimed that Trump’s falsehoods and reminders about the January 6, 2001 insurrection had resonated more with undecided voters.

“I would not be running again if I didn’t believe with all my heart and soul I can do this job,” Biden told donors in East Hampton. “I know I don’t walk as easy as I used to, I don’t speak as smoothly as I used to, I don’t debate as well as I used to. But here’s what I also know: I know how to tell the truth. I know right from wrong. I know how to do this job.”

Biden made a similar pitch later Saturday at the home of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. First lady Jill Biden was by his side most of the day, their hands locked tightly together as they walked between the presidential helicopter and Air Force One.

Camp David with the family

It was near midnight when Biden’s motorcade pulled up to Camp David on Saturday as rainstorms broke out around the area. He spent Sunday and Monday at the presidential retreat with his family for a previously scheduled photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz for the upcoming Democratic National Convention.

But Biden’s status in the race was inevitably a topic of conversation. His family urged him to stay in the race, according to four people familiar with the discussions who insisted on anonymity. Among the most vocal: Jill Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

The family still felt Biden was the best Democrat to run against Trump and that he could still perform the responsibilities of the president for another four years.

Rough Saturday call

The Democratic National Committee and Biden campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez convened a call on Saturday afternoon meant to reassure party leaders. But several people on the call, most granted anonymity to discuss its details, left with a greater sense of panic. It seemed to them as though Biden’s team was ignoring just how difficult his chances now looked with the election only four months away.

Allies defend Biden, but Democrats worry

Democratic leaders tried to repair the damage but were divided on just how to do that, airing their thoughts on Sunday TV shows.

Longtime ally Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, said that Biden was the victim of “preparation overload” for the debate and that “I do not believe that Joe Biden has a problem leading for the next four years.”

But Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, said Biden’s performance had sparked debates inside the party.

“This makes it a difficult situation for everybody, but there are very honest and serious and rigorous conversations taking place at every level of our party because it is a political party, and we have differences in point of view,” Raskin said.

Business as usual?

Biden’s public schedule for the week ahead gave no hint of how the debate has altered the political landscape.

He was scheduled to return to Washington from Camp David on Monday evening. On Tuesday, he was to get a briefing and deliver remarks on extreme weather conditions, and later hold a campaign reception. On Wednesday, he’ll host a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House. And on Thursday, Biden and his wife will hold an Independence Day holiday barbeque on the White House south lawn for members of the military and their families.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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