Biden Allies Dismiss Calls to Quit in Frenetic Weekend Blitz

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden’s campaign is going on the attack against a chorus of donors, consultants, officials and media voices calling on him to drop out of the 2024 race after his devastating debate performance.

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The strategy will be remembered as a display of either remarkable foresight or incredible hubris.

Aides spent the weekend publicly dismissing suggestions that Biden reconsider his candidacy or take dramatic steps to overhaul his operation. They angrily denounced the suggestion Biden and his family might entertain a discussion of leaving the race as they traveled to Camp David for a private getaway, where photographer Annie Leibovitz would be taking pictures of the beleaguered clan.

After cursory concessions that the debate went poorly, surrogates insisted the impact was overblown – and that those speculating about replacing Biden on the ticket were hurting their party by considering an idea that would only prompt chaos and infighting.

In private calls, public memos and media appearances, they mocked those who suggested the president self-inflicted a fatal wound as “bed wetters” out of touch with real Americans. Top Democratic lawmakers rallied around the president, fanning out on television to argue there’s still a path to victory against former President Donald Trump.

Biden’s campaign is also launching a new 60-second ad in which the president acknowledges the age concerns but pledges to “get back up.” The ad will air during large-viewership moments including sports programs and The Bachelorette season premiere, the campaign said.

Yet concern about Biden’s candidacy may be extending more widely.

A post-debate poll by CBS News found that just 28% of registered voters believed Biden should be running for president, including only 54% of the president’s own party. Some 72% said Biden didn’t have the mental and cognitive health to serve as president.

Representative Jamie Raskin, an influential Maryland Democrat, said on MSNBC there were “very honest and serious and rigorous conversations taking place at every level of our party” about the path forward.

Photographers zooming in on Biden’s phone spotted him calling historian Jon Meacham – a frequent adviser whom he has consulted ahead of consequential moments in his administration – as the president boarded his Marine One helicopter Saturday night after a series of fundraisers.

Former hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, a Democratic donor, emailed a group of top lawmakers urging them to persuade the campaign to put Biden in “unscripted settings” handling “fair but tough questions” in order to prove he isn’t “in a moderate to advanced state of cognitive decline.“

Billionaire Donors

“It’s unanimous in the donor class — every single person I’ve encountered, including a number of billionaires, some of the biggest donors in the country I’ve spoken with, they’re completely aligned with me, that Biden needs to go,” Tilson said in an interview. “So there’s a complete disconnect between the campaign and the donor class.”

The editorial board of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the largest newspaper in the swing state of Georgia, joined liberal stalwarts such as New Yorker editor David Remnick and the New York Times editorial board in urging Biden to step aside.

Daniella Ballou-Aares, founder of the Leadership Now Project, said her group of business leaders who have organized around the idea of defending American democracy would be holding a virtual call Monday to discuss alternate paths.

“There’s a very significant disconnect between what the campaign is messaging and where our members are,” she said. “And I think their messaging is really out of touch with how people have seen the reality of the debate.” Concerns of members extend to the potential implications for competitive House and Senate races, she added.

Some of the campaign’s actions indicate on some level, they’re recognizing that anxiety. At fundraisers since the debate in Manhattan, the Hamptons and New Jersey, Biden conceded to donors he’d lost a step on the debate stage and vowed to work harder.

In Wilmington, Delaware, staff were called for an all-hands meeting on Friday afternoon for reassurance.

And on Saturday, Democratic National Committee chairman and Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez held a hastily arranged call with committee members across the country worried about the path forward. But some DNC members said they felt gaslit on the call, describing Biden’s team as unwilling or unable to grapple with the changing race, the Associated Press reported.

Biden officials insisted that the panic was unnecessary.

Aides said they had raised around $33 million – including $26 million in grassroots donations - since Thursday. Campaign chairwoman Jen O’Malley Dillon said internal data showed the debate “did nothing to change the American people’s perception” about the race.

They said Biden had rebounded at a speech Friday in North Carolina, and took encouragement in Nielsen ratings showing that the debate drew just 51 million viewers, significantly fewer than in past elections. They cited flash polls that suggested Biden’s performance hadn’t seriously eroded his support, sidestepping the fact the president already appeared to be trailing Trump headed into the debate.

“Perhaps we live in an insanely fractured information environment and no one thing is going to dramatically change the dynamics,” Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo said.

Biden was also buoyed by no major Democrat publicly calling for him to step aside – and particularly statements of support from former President Barack Obama as well as a cadre of governors and senators at the center of recent speculation about replacing him on the ticket.

In another memo, deputy campaign manager Rob Flaherty argued that that even if the president’s polls did decline, it was merely a temporary reflection of “reactionary” coverage by the chattering class.

Flaherty went on to swipe at “self-important” podcasters — a clear reference to the popular “Pod Save America” show, hosted by former Obama administration officials who expressed alarm in the aftermath of the debate.

“Breaking news: People think Joe Biden’s old. They did coming into the debate, they do coming out of the debate,” he wrote.

The Loyalists

Taken together, the responses underscore two truths about Biden loyalists.

The group deeply distrusts pronouncements by the media and Democratic insiders, and remains angry that Biden’s primary campaign ahead of the 2020 election wasn’t treated with more respect.

Multiple officials said the call from the Times editorial board for Biden to step down had a galvanizing effect among demoralized staffers, reminding them of the 2020 primary when the Times split its endorsement between two senators – Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar – who had little impact on the race.

Biden’s team also has few alternatives as long as the president wants to remain in the race, necessitating a posture in which staffers must stake their credibility and legacies to not further diminish a wounded candidate.

Forcing Biden from the ticket is virtually impossible under Democratic Party rules, and the president and his allies have decades of connections throughout Washington, including personal friendships with top lawmakers.

Those who publicly denounce Biden risk the fury of their peers and longtime exile from the party, even if Biden proves unable to recover.

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Anita Dunn, the White House official and longtime Democratic operative who sits at the center of Biden’s messaging operation, laughed when asked on MSNBC about critics who believed she and her team had arrogantly insisted “they know what they are doing” only for Biden to fumble his performance.

“Well, that’s a shock,” Dunn replied sarcastically. “That has never happened to the Biden operation the entire time I’ve been involved in it.”

--With assistance from Skylar Woodhouse.

(Updates to add details on new Biden campaign ad in paragraph 6)

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