‘I Was Afraid of This’: Biden Debate Debacle Rocks US Allies

(Bloomberg) -- Leave it to the Poles to articulate in public what many in Europe are too fearful to say out loud: Joe Biden should have known when to quit.

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A few hours after the US presidential debate, Poland’s famously frank top diplomat made an oblique yet unmistakable comparison between the US president and the last of the so-called five good emperors in ancient Rome who made a bad decision in his final years that led to civil war.

“It’s important to manage one’s ride into the sunset,” Radoslaw Sikorski wrote on X.

Sikorski’s boss, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, didn’t look to history but neither did he duck the question when asked for his reaction to Biden’s performance against Republican rival Donald Trump — one so bad that some Democrats are asking if it’s too late to replace the 81-year-old leader on the ticket.

“I was afraid of this, in the sense that it was to be expected that in a direct confrontation, in a debate, it would not be easy for President Biden,” Tusk told a briefing in Brussels on Friday after an EU leaders summit.

Do Democrats have to change their candidate? “They definitely have a problem,” he said. “These reactions are unequivocal.”

Those remarks were just a sample of the consternation and hand-wringing that followed the debate, in which Biden repeatedly stumbled and lost his train of thought. Trump, meanwhile, offered a string of falsehoods and exaggerations, and unsettled US allies with his argument that Ukraine will never win its war against Russia.

By the time the scale of the catastrophe became clear, many EU leaders had already headed back home from the summit in Brussels. Some, like French President Emmanuel Macron, have their own election drama to deal with.

Keir Starmer, the opposition Labour leader who’s likely to become Britain’s new prime minister next week, declined to offer a view on Biden’s performance: “I don’t think me commentating on the American election is helpful.”

Privately, however, Labour officials said the debate was alarming. Their preference was for a Democratic president, which now seems less likely, one said. Biden’s apparently declining physical and mental condition has been a regular topic of conversation in discussions with progressive allies in America and Europe.

‘Trump Wins Big’ Meme Stock Soars in China During First Debate

Reaction from US adversaries Russia and China was muted, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov suggesting Vladimir Putin didn’t watch. “I don’t think you’d expect the president to set an alarm, wake up in the morning and watch the debate in the US,” he said.

Vladimir Soloviev, a prominent host on state-run TV, posted a collage on Telegram of media outlet headlines declaring panic among Democrats after Biden’s performance.

Posts on China’s X-like site Weibo mocked both candidates and the debate. “It’s one old man trying to convince people he’s not crazy, and one old man trying to convince people he’s not senile,” one user wrote.

Zhu Junwei, a former researcher in the People’s Liberation Army who is now director of American research at Grandview Institution, gave a withering assessment: Biden appeared weak and sounded weak. Meanwhile, shares of a Chinese company whose local-language name sounds like “Trump wins big” jumped by their daily limit during the debate.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is visiting Russia next month, is more comfortable with a Trump presidency, Indian officials said on condition of anonymity. They noted Biden’s lackluster performance, felt Trump was full of energy and are now watching to see if California Governor Gavin Newsom emerges as a replacement.

Kishore Mahbubani, a former top bureaucrat in Singapore’s Foreign Ministry and president of the United Nations Security Council, said it had to be one of the worst nights of Biden’s political life.

“The big question is whether or not he can survive tonight’s debate,” he said in an interview. “There may be a kind of a paradoxical result from this debate — it means that Joe Biden has to step down and the younger Democratic candidate comes in. That will be very good news for the world because it’d be bad news for Trump.”

--With assistance from Philip J. Heijmans, Alex Morales, Sudhi Ranjan Sen and Colum Murphy.

(Updates with jump in shares of Chinese company in 14th paragraph.)

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